ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Down 22 points, the Winthrop men’s basketball team pulled within eight points with under four minutes remaining in the game, but couldn’t get any closer as it fell 81-66 at UNC Asheville, on Wednesday.
The loss is the first in Big South play on the road for Winthrop (9-8, 3-2). Asheville improved to 10-9 and 4-1.
Trailing by 22 points a couple of different times in the second half, Winthrop used a late run in the game to pull within eight points but that was as close as it would get.
Two free throws by Jaron Lane made it 69-53 with 5:10 to play before Winthrop went on an 8-1 run and had the deficit to eight points with 3:21 left after Josh Davenport’s tip-in off a Smith three-point attempt. Lane pushed the lead back to 11 points but then Joab Jerome scored inside to make the deficit single-digits again.
Off his basket, Jerome got a steal at midcourt and was headed to the basket for a score but Sam Hughes came from behind to block the shot and instead of trailing by just seven points the Eagles fell behind by 11 as Lane scored on the other end.
Midway through the second half, Andre Smith tried to get things going for the Eagles as he scored nine straight points for Winthrop behind the arc, but Asheville continued to respond.
Jerome led Winthrop with 13 points off the bench as he also had three assists, two blocks and a steal. Smith had 12 points for the second straight game and Davenport chipped in with 10 points.
Defensively the Eagles were much improved from the first half to the second as they held the Bulldogs to 36 percent shooting and forced 11 turnovers. Winthrop finished the game shooting 40 percent from the floor and Asheville finished at 48 percent. The Bulldogs ended with a 47-29 advantage on the boards. At the free-throw line, Asheville went 25-for-33. The Eagles went 8-for-19.
Winthrop trailed 19-9 in the first half but cut the deficit down to five points after a Keon Moore layup and an Andre Smith 3-pointer with 9:58 left. From that point the Bulldogs outscored the Eagles 28-14 over the final 10 minutes of the half to lead 47-28 at the break. It was the most points allowed by Winthrop in the first half of a league game since Feb. 4, 2012 at VMI.
It was a 15-1 run by the Bulldogs over a four-minute span that opened up the game as Andrew Rowsey and Corey Littlejohn drained back-to-back threes at the end of the run to lead 35-16. Davenport ended that run for Winthrop as he knocked down a three and was fouled in the process. He didn’t convert the four-point play and Asheville went down on the other end to score for a 37-19 lead. The Eagles just couldn’t cool off the Bulldogs as they finished the first half shooting 60 percent from the floor and 58 percent from three (7-for-12).
Winthrop shot just 33 percent from the floor, 29 percent behind the arc, and was dominated on the glass 22-12. The Eagles also turned the ball over eight times in addition to having a hard time getting shots to fall.
Lane led five Bulldog players in double-figures with a game-high 22 points as he was 6-for-9 from the field and 10-for-14 at the foul line. Rowsey added 17 points while Hughes scored 12, David Robertson had 11 and Jaleel Roberts had 10.
Winthrop will look to bounce back as it returns home for a 4 p.m. contest against the Virginia Military Academy on Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Winthrop Coliseum. The matchup is the inaugural “Hoops For Troops” game as all military personal, active or retired, along with immediate family members admitted for free. The game will have a pregame ceremony honoring the 178th Engineer Battalion from Rock Hill for their continuing efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom. The game will also air on ESPN3 and is part of a doubleheader with the women’s basketball team playing Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m.