After Presbyterian College's 76-74 overtime win over Winthrop on Saturday in Clinton, PC coach Gregg Nibert was mobbed by well-wishers and Blue Hose alum.
Nibert called the victory a huge win.
It's huge because PC did it without its best player, Al'Lonzo Coleman. It was huge because it was the first time the Blue Hose have beaten the Eagles since the 1985-1986 season. It was huge because they've been so close to a win over Winthrop on three different occasions in the last three seasons but came up short each time.
"We did it without our Tom Brady," Nibert said, comparing his 6-foot-7 center (Coleman) to the New England Patriots' quarterback. "This win is huge because in our transition to Division I, we've never beaten Winthrop. We said 'We've gotta go win to prove ourselves.'"
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Coleman, a redshirt junior, was the team's leading scorer and rebounder until a broken tibia ended his season on Jan. 8. The Blue Hose lost their next three games and then rallied to get a win against Radford on Jan. 22. Now, they have beaten Winthrop.
While Nibert was cherishing the moment, Winthrop coach Randy Peele was marching angrily from the locker room across The Templeton Center court, then back to the locker room. Peele was miffed about an incident during the first half of the game when PC was running its half-court offense in front of the Winthrop bench.
To set the stage properly, The Templeton Center might best be compared to a mediocre high school gymnasium, and the team's bench is no more than two feet from what is considered in-bounds.
The incident occurred while Peele was calling out defensive plays to his players on the floor. Peele was clearly on the court when an official, with his whistle in its ready position, collided with the coach. It wasn't a football-type collision, more like bumping into a stranger at the mall.
The bump was enough to cause the official's whistle to chirp and that chirp was enough to cause half the players on the floor to stop playing. PC's Khalid Mutakabbir did not stop. He followed through with a 15-foot jumper to give his team a 30-24 lead.
Play was halted while the officials talked about what had happened. Nibert complained that Peele was on the court and pleaded for a technical foul. Peele argued that he was in front of his bench, coaching.
Play resumed. Officials concluded that the basket counted. Peele thought the ruling cost his team the game. He talked about sending out an e-mail to the league to make his point.
The loss dropped Winthrop (9-11, 5-5 Big South) into fifth place in the Big South. The Eagles have lost seven straight road games and face an upcoming schedule that has them playing at Radford, at Gardner-Webb and at UNC Asheville.
PC sophomore Jay Reynolds' take on the game's outcome was far more upbeat than Peele's. Reynolds was a seldom-used post player until Coleman's injury. He hit four key free throws in overtime against Winthrop.
"We all want to beat Winthrop, but coach (Nibert) really wanted this win," Reynolds said. "He didn't tell us to play dirty or anything, but he definitely wanted us to play hard."
PC redshirt-junior point guard Pierre Miller said the team was excited about the win.
"This was a big win for us. But I think coach is more excited than any of us players," Miller said.
That was evident when the final buzzer sounded. Nibert gave a fist pump reminiscent of one Tiger Woods gives after sinking a crucial putt.
Presbyterian (10-12, 4-6 Big South) isn't in contention for a regular season conference championship; the team is six games out of first place with eight games to go. The win doesn't improve PC's chances of securing a better seed in next month's Big South Conference tournament; they aren't eligible for postseason play until at least the 2012-2013 season.
Nevertheless, the win was huge for the Blue Hose.