Winthrop guard Reggie Middleton's extraordinary effort in Thursday's 88-82 overtime win at VMI was the kind of stuff that should be remembered for years to come.
Middleton crashed into the Keydets 7-foot center Stephen Sargent with 8:52 to go in the first half. The military school's aptly-named big man set a screen so solid with his 275-pound frame that a cement truck might have had trouble getting through.
Middleton crumpled to the floor then rocked on his back while holding his reinjured left ankle. He was helped off the court and took a seat on the end of the bench. Just before halftime the junior had his left shoe off and a gigantic bag of ice covering his ankle.
"I thought I broke it or something," Middleton said after the game. "I ran into Sargent and I think he kicked me, by accident, while I was falling."
Jeff Lahr, Winthrop's head athletic trainer now in his 17th year, had Middleton running the hallways in the belly of VMI's basketball facility during halftime. When the second half began Middleton was again seated at the end of the bench.
Middleton entered the game with 14:45 to go in regulation to the surprise of nearly everyone in Cameron Hall.
Eagles radio play-by-play man Dave Friedman said he thought Middleton was done for the night and probably wouldn't play at Liberty either.
Winthrop coach Randy Peele explained he was told by assistant coach Larry Dixon that "Reggie was ready."
Peele first went to Lahr who gave the okay. Then the coach asked Middleton.
"I wanted it to be (Middleton's) decision," Peele said.
The Eagles' floor leader wore the pain on his face several times in the second half and through the overtime period. His grit and determination paired nicely with his 11 points, eight assists and 5-for-6 free throw shooting.
The Eagles (4-3, 1-0 Big South) change gears tonight from VMI's ultra-high speed game to face a Liberty team that has won three straight including Thursday's 70-61 conference opening win against Presbyterian.
The Flames (5-4, 1-0 Big South) are employing a four-guard set with 6-6 sophomore Antwan Burrus at forward. Evan Gordon and Jesse Sanders return from last season's 15-16 team. Sanders dropped in a career-high 25 points at the Winthrop Coliseum on March 2, 2010 in the first round of the conference tournament.
Redshirt junior David Minaya has stepped into the starting lineup along with junior college transfer John Brown. Another guard, Jeremy Anderson, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Tuesday. He is out for tonight's game but isn't expected to miss an extended period of time.
Brown has been a nice addition. The 6-4, 195-pound guard played one year at Roane State (Va.) after starting his career at The Citadel and is known as a relentless rebounder. He has started all nine games and enters tonight's game averaging 12.9 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Peele likes Minaya and said Brown reminds him of Joe Harris, the 6-5 Coastal Carolina forward who became the school's all-time leader in rebounds as a senior last season.
The key match up today is Valentine, who is stepping into Mantoris Robinson's role as defensive stopper, on Brown.