CHARLESTON -- Winthrop's Eagles took care of business against Charleston Southern on Monday night, beating the Bucs 81-64, to set up Saturday's showdown for first place at UNC Asheville.
The Eagles (14-7, 5-1 Big South) won their fifth straight while the Bulldogs (17-4, 5-0) were finishing off Coastal Carolina on the road. The two meet at 4:30 on Saturday in a game that closes out the first half of the conference season.
Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh played UNC Asheville on Saturday, and after facing the Eagles on Monday, he had this to say.
"I'd pay to see that one," Radebaugh said, after the Eagles held his team to 40 percent shooting, controlled the tempo of the game, shot 53 percent from the field and won the boards by 10.
"That's two veteran teams who know what they're doing," Radebaugh added without picking a favorite.
The Eagles now have five days to get ready, after playing their third game in six days and getting out of the Buc Dome with a business-like win.
"You go on the road," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said, "and you've got to find a way to win. I told our guys it's not the best we've played, but we still won by 17. That's pretty good."
The Eagles got 20 points from Michael Jenkins, who made 7-of-12 shots, and 12 from Chris Gaynor. But the key numbers came once again from freshmen Charles Corbin, who had 13 points and four rebounds, and Justin Burton, who knocked down 10 key points in relief of foul-plagued Gaynor.
"Corbin was a factor around the basket in the second half, and Burton played very well. His confidence is growing every day," Peele said.
And the Winthrop defense was good for the fifth straight game. Shelton Carter hit 6-of-10 shots and scored 16, but Chris Moore, Jamarco Warren and Omar Carter were a combined 7-of-24.
The Bucs, who want a lot of shots, didn't get nearly enough.
"The tempo was in no way what we wanted," Radebaugh said. "But they ran the shot clock down 25 seconds, then rose up and hit big shots. We didn't get enough possessions.
"We competed and the effort was good, but our execution was poor. You can't do that against a team like Winthrop."
Peele did get to experiment with a new look on offense, even if he didn't want to.
Jenkins was forced to play point guard for the first time in who knows when in the first half, when Gaynor picked up two fouls and sat the last 14 minutes of the half. And backup Justin Burton picked up his third with 6:58 left and had to go to the bench.
"I learned the position when coach (Gregg) Marshall was here," Jenkins said, "but Chris has been around so long, I haven't been able to play it. It's different. You've got to be steady and have a level head."
The Eagles fell into the Charleston Southern trap of playing a little too out of control. On those occasions when the Eagles were patient and ran the offense, they shot layups. Too often they settled for the first open shot.
After leading 37-29 at the half, the final 20 minutes were much better, although there were a couple of uneasy moments.
Shelton Carter hit a 3-pointer to trim Winthrop's lead to 42-39 with 15:43 left, but Jenkins hit a 12-footer with the shot clock going off. It was one of several jumpers from the 6-3 senior that looked silky and confident.
"My shot felt good in warmups," Jenkins said. "I was just trying to have fun."
And Burton buried back-to-back 3-pointers on the heels of Jenkins' shot. Burton was back on the floor after Gaynor had slammed into a screen set by 6-8 220-pound Quinton Goods. And Burton made both shots with Gaynor sitting at the scorer's table waiting to come in and cheering the freshman on.
Radebaugh said he wasn't surprised by Burton's shots.
"We had him down as a shooter," Radebaugh said, "and we saw on film he'd been shooting it well.
"And Jenkins ... he's just a heck of a player."
The lead slipped to 60-54 with 9:36 left before Jenkins drilled a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to start what would be an 18-5 run that finished off the Bucs.
And after Gaynor went to the bench for about three minutes after his collision with Goods, he came back to knock in 12 points.
"That's the difference in the teams," Radebaugh said. "Chris comes back after that and scores 12."
The win, Jenkins said, put the Eagles where they wanted to be.
"It's exciting," Jenkins said. "It's (Saturday's game) for first place."