With three games in seven days, Winthrop closes its nonconference schedule with a rush, starting at home at 7 p.m. today, when the Eagles (7-5) host Limestone (2-4).
After tonight, the Eagles play another difficult road game at Marshall on Saturday and host Presbyterian a week from tonight, before opening Big South Conference play on Jan. 12.
With league play looming, the Eagles hope to build a bucket full of momentum over the next week. They've won two straight, including Saturday's impressive 76-70 win over Miami, a win that knocked the previously unbeaten and 19th-ranked Hurricanes out of the top 25.
The winning streak is Winthrop's longest since opening the season 3-0.
"What's really exciting coming out of the Miami game," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said, "is this team is really starting to improve. Right now, it's a day-to-day quest to get better.
"Because of the schedule we've played, we know this team pretty well, know what areas to focus on."
Peele said the Eagles still need work on the defensive end and in rebounding. The last two games -- wins over Old Dominion and Miami -- prove Peele's point.
The Eagles were beaten by eight on the glass by ODU, but because the defense limited the Monarchs to 39 percent shooting, they were able to win by three. Because they fought the Hurricanes to a 33-33 stalemate on the glass, they won by six.
"Rebounding-wise, we're average right now," Peele said, "and that makes our half-court execution on offense a bigger deal. And if we get beat on the glass, our defensive field goal percentage has got to be even better."
The Eagles have been outrebounded in four of the past six games and trailed at the half in five.
Even after the win at Miami, Peele didn't cut the Eagles any slack in practice. The Eagles went hard on Monday and New Year's Day, spending a good bit of practice on defense and rebounding.
"I've got to continue to put pressure on our guys to get better," he said.
After 11 straight grueling games, eight of them away from home, tonight's game against the NCAA Division II Saints shouldn't be a problem. The Saints, who haven't played since a 99-68 loss to USC-Aiken Dec. 19, don't have a starter taller than 6-foot-5 or a player taller than 6-6. They don't have the Eagles' athleticism or depth.
Andre Coleman, a 6-4 junior, leads the Saints in scoring (17.4). Andrae Franklin, a 6-5 center, leads the team in rebounding (5.7).
The Saints like to shoot the 3-pointer -- they average 32 attempts and make about 12 per game -- and if they don't get it, they like to create off the dribble.
Should be a breeze, right?
For the most part, Winthrop has handled these games as expected -- by winning by wide margins.
But all Peele has to do is think back to the season-opener, when the Eagles had to claw their way past Queens (68-61), a team from Limestone's league. Queens drilled the Saints 81-66 Nov. 20.
And two seasons ago, the Eagles nipped Newberry 79-77.
In those cases, Winthrop's smaller opponent tried to spread the floor and force an up-tempo game in an effort to get open jumpers. Peele knows it's the kind of trap easily fallen into if a team lacks concentration, particularly at the defensive end.
"I know the situation," Peele said. "We can't take anything for granted because of our history with D-twos."
And because of what's around the corner.
"The next three games are huge," he said.