Know your opponent.
With Winthrop clinging to a three-point lead, Liberty had to get the ball into the hands of its best 3-point shooter Evan Gordon.
Liberty had 19.1 seconds for a game-tying shot. Jesse Sanders poked and prodded the Eagles' defense with his dribble. Winthrop's Charles Corbin bodied Sanders, made him change directions. When he picked up his dribble he looked to the corner, but Joab Jerome and Reggie Middleton made that impossible.
Sanders tried to pass to Gordon on the wing but Winthrop's Robbie Dreher got a hand on the pass, then gathered the ball and went to the free throw line to ice a 61-56 Big south win.
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"I lost Gordon for a second," Dreher admitted. "I happened to get back and be in the right place at the right time."
Liberty coach Dale Layer had a timeout available but elected to let his team play for the tie without stopping the game. On second thought, he wished he'd have called time.
"That was my fault, 100 percent," he said. "We have two or three guys we could have run plays for to keep Winthrop guessing."
Winthrop (13-15, 9-8 Big South) snapped a three-game skid with the win. It may not matter much in the team's last-ditch effort to secure a top four seed in next week's Big South Tournament. The first four seeds get a first-round home game.
The Eagles needed UNC Asheville to lose to get the No. 3 seed, but Asheville beat High Point 76-62 on Thursday.
Now, Winthrop must win its final regular season game at home against VMI and have Charleston Southern lose to the suddenly reeling Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on Saturday.
More than likely, Winthrop will have to go on a March run that begins on the road if it is to win its 10th Big South title in 13 years.
Winthrop coach Randy Peele has led the Eagles to two championships in three years. Winning this season would be his greatest achievement.
"We can't worry about who we play or where," Peele said. "Saturday is another game. We have to focus on VMI. No matter where we end up (as a seed) it will be a close game. Anyone can win on any given night."
The first half was played to Winthrop's favor. The Eagles played a patient offense, for the most part, and led 29-22 at the break.
This week, the Winthrop coaching staff stressed the importance of working the ball inside against Liberty. Iona blitzed the Flames, 77-57, in the BracketBuster matchup last Saturday using an inside-out approach.
Middleton led Winthrop with 10 first-half points and had two assists. He scored on two layups, three free throws and a patient 3-pointer. He took the shot only after looking twice to feed the ball inside to George Valentine.
Reluctantly, Middleton shot the 3 and buried it.
Liberty went on an unlikely 7-0 run to take a 46-45 lead on David Minaya's 15-foot jump shot with 4:50 left. It was the Flames first lead since scoring the game's first basket.
The run was improbable because Liberty missed 5-of-6 free throws during the stretch. Simultaneously though, Winthrop went into a funk offensively. The Eagles forced up quick shots and missed all of them.
The lead changed hands four times in the final eight minutes.
Corbin hit the go-ahead basket, a close-in bank shot. With 47 ticks on the clock, Winthrop led 56-55.
Corbin scored a team-high 11 points and posted his ninth double-double of the season. He connected on 3-of-4 free throws in the final 34 seconds to close out the Flames.
"I told my teammates to give me the ball. We all trust each other. I'm a senior and that's what I am supposed to do," Corbin said. "Seniors should make plays at the end."
Middleton, Dreher and Matt Morgan each scored 10 points. It was Morgan's first double-digit scoring game since Jan. 20 vs. Radford.
Liberty (19-11, 13-4) lost its third straight game. They have already secured the No. 2 seed. The Flames came into the game as a 69.3 percent foul shooting team. They made 43.5 percent (10-for-23) on Thursday.
Peele challenged his team to hold Liberty's Gordon to 14 or less. Gordon scored a career-high 26 points in the first meeting but netted 11 this time around.
Jesse Sanders scored a game-high 19 points but also had six turnovers. He had a career-best 25 in his last game at the Coliseum in the first round of last season's Big South Tournament.
The 6-3 junior guard flirted with his fourth career triple-double against Winthrop earlier this season, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Winthrop hosts VMI at 7 p.m. on Saturday. It will be Senior Night with a pregame ceremony to honor Corbin and Justin Burton as well as three team managers.