Winthrop begins its Big South Conference season tonight at VMI with one certainty: The Keydets will not score 151 points as they did Monday night against Central Penn College.
Winthrop, 3-3, has made defense its calling card for the last dozen years. True to form, the Eagles lead the Big South in scoring defense this season, allowing 60.7 points per game. Coach Randy Peele's goal is to hold every opponent to 55 points or less.
VMI, 6-1, is known for its high-scoring offense. The Keydets have led the nation in scoring each of the past four seasons. Through seven games, VMI is pumping in 99.4 points per game.
VMI is off to its best start since the 1920s, when a peach basket was standard and the backboard was a new concept. But four of the team's wins have come against Division II teams.
The team received votes in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll.
To beat VMI, the Eagles will have to defend the 3-point line. The Keydets are making more 3s (12 per game) than Winthrop attempts (11).
"If VMI scores 100 on us, I want them to make 50 2-point baskets," Peele joked on Tuesday.
During Wednesday's practice at Winthrop Coliseum, Peele laid out a few keys to winning on the road. Tonight's game is the first of three consecutive road games for the Eagles, who play at Liberty on Saturday night and at Charlotte on Tuesday.
The keys: Defend, be disciplined and make the important free throws late in the game. He hopes that guidance will end the Eagles' losing streak in conference-opening games.
Stan Okoye, a sophomore forward, leads the Keydets in rebounding (9.6 per game) and is second in scoring (20.3 per game).
"You never know what's going to happen when you play us," Okoye said.. "(Central Penn) was young and undisciplined. We took advantage of that. We scored 85 points in the second half alone.
"And we shot pretty well."
Okoye has heard the talk that playing four DII schools will hurt this team.
"I think it gives us confidence," he said. "We don't look at names on the front of the jersey. We play everyone the same and just try to get the win."
Two of Winthrop's three wins have been against Division II teams Queens and Lander.
VMI lost just one starter, point guard Adam Lonon, from last season's team that was 10-19 overall and finished eighth in the Big South at 5-13. Freshman Rodney Glasgow has stepped into the lead guard spot and put up solid numbers - 13.4 points and 5.4 assists - through the first seven games.
"He was a starter when we signed him," said Duggar Baucom, VMI's coach. "Nothing against Adam, but Rodney is better suited at point guard. I can't say he's a surprise because we expect big things from him."
Austin Kenon, a preseason all-conference pick, may not play because of a back injury and a twisted ankle. His status will be determined just before the game. Kenon scored 18.4 points a game last season, but has played in four games this season. He is averaging 10 points and 16 minutes per contest.
Kenon is one of two 1,000-point scorers on VMI's roster. Kenon has 1,293 career points and Keith Gabriel has 1,053.
Keydets' freshman D.J. Covington, a 6-foot-9 forward/center, is also banged up. He was one blocked shot and a rebound away from recording a triple-double against Southern Virginia, even with an arm injury. Covington has played in two games and been unable to practice.
Baucom said Covington is day-to-day. "The way we play, it's not rocket science. Missing practice time won't keep him from coming in and contributing in games."
Winthrop's Reggie Middleton sat out of Wednesday's practice with an injured left ankle. Whether he plays will be determined before the game.