February 22, 2009

In familiar territory

This playing close games and winning with big shots down the stretch probably isn't going to help Winthrop coach Randy Peele keep his hair, and it might result in prolonged use of Pepto-Bismol.

This playing close games and winning with big shots down the stretch probably isn't going to help Winthrop coach Randy Peele keep his hair, and it might result in prolonged use of Pepto-Bismol.

But that's fine by Peele, because it tells him his team is getting better, perhaps at just the right time.

For the third straight game, the Eagles got a lead and lost it, but in the final five minutes found a way to win, this time beating Appalachian State 65-63 in the ESPNU BracketBuster on Saturday afternoon in the Winthrop Coliseum.

The Eagles (9-18) won their third straight game, the longest winning streak of the season, getting the game-winning 3-pointer from freshman Andre Jones, a huge 3-pointer from Charles Corbin and a little luck thrown in at the buzzer.

"There's meaning to every victory," Peele said when asked if a nonconference game in February between two teams with losing records meant anything. "It shows we're progressing, winning close games."

Jones, who led the Eagles with 15 points, said he likes playing the close games.

"But they're only fun when we win," he said.

It took some will down the stretch to make it happen.

Winthrop led for most of the afternoon, playing good defense and knocking down some shots. With eight minutes to play, the Eagles led 54-45 with an opportunity to put one away early. The Mountaineers were missing free throws and turning the ball over, and the Eagles had six opportunities to widen the lead.

Instead, they missed four shots and turned the ball over twice. And when Donald Sims hit a 3-pointer with 5:04 to go, the Mountaineers had cut the lead to 54-50. Josh Hunter scored eight of the next 10 points for ASU, and with 1:40 left, the Mountaineers led 60-57.

Corbin, who finished with 11 points off the bench, had the game's most improbable shot. Getting a pass just to the right of the top of the key, Corbin looked at the bucket and with no one guarding him, launched and made his first 3-pointer since Dec. 16 and just his third of the season.

It was not the play Peele was looking for, but in close games sometimes it's the play you don't go to that works.

"Yeah," Peele said, grinning. "In the huddle I said 'Charles you haven't hit a 3 since December. Can you make it?'

"The only thing he didn't do was make one more pass to Andre Jones for a 3. But he did hit a big one."

Still, the Eagles had to do it again after Sims hit two free throws with 55.7 seconds left. Sims scored 18, but those were his only two in the final five minutes, after Peele stuck Mantoris Robinson on him.

Peele called time with 50.6 seconds left and set up the same play the Eagles used to win at Presbyterian on Jan. 10. Jones hit that one, too.

It wasn't exactly the same.

"We thought they'd play zone," Jones said, "but they came out man to man."

Jones found the open spot, near the corner in front of the Winthrop bench, and swished the shot to put the Eagles up 63-62 with 35 seconds to go. Jones admitted he hadn't had his legs the last four or five games and his 9-for-33 shooting the past four games showed it.

"Today," he said, "I had my legs."

Byron Faison helped there, by playing 14 minutes and helping Jones stay fresh. Faison was helped off the floor with 12 minutes left and might have a sprained ligament in his left knee.

After Jones' shot, the Mountaineers got a couple more chances, but Hunter missed inside and Robinson grabbed the rebound and was fouled. With 4.9 seconds left, Robinson, who had made seven of his last 19 from the line, made both.

Now, here's where the Eagles got lucky.

Peele called time and told his players to let the Mountaineers advance the ball across midcourt and then take a foul. Justin Burton took a swat at Marcus Wright across midcourt but it wasn't called and Robinson was called for a foul as Wright tried to launch something that looked like a 3-pointer.

Wright went to the line for three shots with seven-tenths of a second to play. He missed the first and made the second, meaning he had to miss the third and someone would have to score on a rebound. They almost did when Wright's high arcing free throw bounced cleanly off the back rim and straight to Hunter, who got off a shot that bounced off the rim.

"I don't like to do that," Peele said of calling for the foul up by three. "Justin just didn't foul strong enough. I wanted a foul going for the ball but he wasn't aggressive enough.

"He (Hunter) had a good look."

The Eagles held the Mountaineers 13 points under their scoring average and to 36 percent shooting. Winthrop also put them on the line 34 times, but the Mountaineers, who shoot 71 percent as a team, made just 20.

"It was a fun game to play," Sims said, "and they just made some big shots. We didn't make free throws, and we shouldn't have been in that situation."

The Eagles, Peele knows, have been there enough.

"Somehow we're making shots in the final five minutes to come back and win," Peele said. "We've had enough practice at it."

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