Saturday was one of those charmed college basketball afternoons for Winthrop as the Eagles hammered Campbell 88-62, their third win of the week.
Winthrop never trailed and was rarely threatened in the last 30 minutes of the game in Rock Hill.
“I’m proud of our kids. I think the tone was set at the beginning of the game,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, referring to a pair of forced turnovers on Campbell’s first two possessions. “Our kids were really, really locked in because they had a lot of respect for Campbell.”
Keon Johnson and Joab Jerome led Winthrop (13-10, 6-4 Big South) with 13 points each, and juniors Andre Smith and Larry Brown added 12 each.
The Camels (11-14, 5-5) had a readily evident length advantage; their 1-3-1 defense that they flashed at times was all high-held, waving arms. But Winthrop held the visitors to 7-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc, several of which came with the game already decided. Offensively, Campbell seemed intent on taking advantage of mismatches on the perimeter, but Winthrop kept the Camels off the offensive boards and limited them to one shot per possession in most cases.
“Every media timeout coach stressed, 4-minute wars, keeping them under 40 percent, jumping ball screens, just being active,” said Brown, rattling off some of the Eagles’ basic defensive tenets.
Campbell’s offensive scheme didn’t bear fruit. The Camels coughed the ball up 16 times during the game, while the Eagles out-rebounded the visitors 41-27, including 16-8 on the offensive glass. That meant many more possessions – and chances to score – for Winthrop.
“We focus on blocking out all of the time because we’re not the biggest, longest, most athletic team,” said Kelsey. “Sixteen offensive rebounds, that’s not normal for us, but it’s something we focused on the last two days. We were gonna have to get easy baskets in transition, and get second shots.”
The Eagles outscored the Camels 42-24 in the paint and also produced 24 points off Camel turnovers. That total included several breakaway dunks for Larry Brown and Christian Farmer that deflated the away team, and pumped up the 2,500-plus in attendance.
“That’s the most exciting play in basketball,” said Kelsey. “We don’t see a lot of those in practice or games, so it’s nice to get them. We’re at our best when we’re up and down and the floor is tilting.”
“The dunks kind of let them see that we’re here to play,” said Smith.
After beating Liberty on the road Tuesday and thumping non-NCAA Barber-Scotia on Thursday, the Eagles will face Longwood Wednesday with a chance to win four straight games for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when Randy Peele’s team won seven consecutive games during one stretch.
“It’s a really good accomplishment for our guys,” said Kelsey. “We’ve got to keep it rolling. Our guys have such a healthy respect for Longwood. They came in here last year and didn’t have a lot of Division I wins and just hit us in the mouth. We’ve got to have two really good days of preparation on Monday and Tuesday.”
Preparation was vital against Campbell, a team that presents a number of awkward defensive assignments. Leonard was a prickly matchup for Winthrop because of his ability to shoot as a 6-foot-9 post player, and it was his three-pointer that cut Winthrop’s early lead to 14-11 with about 11 minutes remaining in the first half. From there, the Eagles hammered the Camels, outscoring them 31-12 the rest of the first half to take a 45-23 lead into the break.
That avalanche started with an 11-0 run by Winthrop. Johnson hit a three while falling down, Jarad Scott finished inside plus the foul, and Jerome followed with another old-fashioned 3-point play to make it 23-11. Johnson then drained a pull-up jumper in transition after another Campbell turnover, and Camel coach Kevin McGeehan had seen enough, calling timeout with 8 minutes, 10 seconds left, his team behind 25-11.
“I thought the physicality in the first half was a factor for us,” said McGeehan. “It exposed some of our weaknesses. Guys that aren’t as comfortable dribbling were under duress and that caused us to be a little bit out of sorts. And it seemed like every rebound that our guys had hands on, they came away with.”
Any hopes of a dramatic second half comeback by the Camels were dissipated quickly by a 9-2 Winthrop run. Campbell’s afternoon was summed up when McGeehan was called for a technical foul for complaining after an orange-shirted fan standing behind him hollered loudly at the officials and was mistaken for the coach’s voice. The visitors couldn’t get out of Rock Hill fast enough Saturday.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T