February 24, 2009

Winthrop basketball coach Peele focused on next two games, not Big South tourney

Winthrop has two Big South Conference games remaining in the regular season, starting at home tonight against Charleston Southern, but here's all we know about where the Eagles stand with the conference tournament looming next week.

The Eagles (9-18, 7-9 Big South) can't finish higher than fifth or lower than seventh. They'll be on the road for the tournament. And they won't have to play Radford (14-2), which clinched the regular-season title and top seeding for the tournament by beating VMI on Saturday, in the first round.

So, it's little wonder coach Randy Peele hasn't spent a lot of time figuring out or worrying about potential matchups for next week's conference tournament that will determine the league's NCAA Tournament representative.

"Our focus just has to be on tomorrow night," Peele said on Monday.

The four teams that will host first-round games have been determined, and the seedings could be finalized tonight. If Liberty (11-5) wins at home against VMI (11-5), the Flames would clinch the No. 2 seed thanks to a regular-season sweep of the Keydets. If that happens, VMI (11-5) and UNC Asheville (10-7) could still tie for third, but VMI wins the tie-breaker by virtue of a win over Radford and would be the No. 3 seed.

UNC Asheville could still get as high as third, if the Bulldogs beat Presbyterian in their final home game and finish in a tie with Liberty.

Winthrop, no matter the finish, will play either VMI, Liberty or UNC Asheville in the first round, but Peele hasn't thought about a preference either. The Eagles swept Asheville, split with Liberty and lost two to VMI.

"You get to tournament time," Peele said, "and things change. You find out that certain teams respond differently. And going on the road doesn't scare me. We won two on the road last year."

For Peele, it's bring on Charleston Southern and try and push the winning streak to four games.

"It's going to be a tough game," he said. "They've been in every single game. They've played everyone to the end. They're going to be dangerous, because they're fighting for their tournament lives."

While the Eagles are assured a spot in the conference tournament, Charleston Southern, which was picked sixth in the preaseason poll and got a first-place vote, is simply trying to make the postseason. The Bucs (8-18, 3-12) are tied with High Point (4-12) in the loss column for last place. And Coastal Carolina (5-11) could still drop into the cellar.

With Presbyterian ineligible for the postseason, one of those three will not make the conference tournament.

The Bucs beat Presbyterian on Saturday, but have lost five of their last six. After starting the year 5-3, coach Barclay Radebaugh's team dropped 10 straight, including a 65-63 home loss to Winthrop.

Winthrop has beaten the Bucs 16 straight times, and Charleston Southern hasn't won in the Winthrop Coliseum since the 2001-2002 season.

In the first meeting, the Eagles led 35-27 at the half, blew the lead and trailed 60-59 in the last minute. They got four points from Mantoris Robinson in the last 59 seconds and two key defensive stops to hang on and win, 65-63. The Bucs hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Robinson's defense on 5-8 guard Jamarco Warren (19 points on 5-of-12 shooting) was the key. The 6-5 Robinson will get Warren again tonight.

But the Eagles also have to find a defense for 6-10 Giedrius Knysas who had 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the first meeting.

If it goes to the wire, Peele is comfortable with his team's ability to handle it. They've won the past three games by three, five and two points.

"We've been in enough of these games," Peele said, "there's a comfort level, and we've been making sure the right people have the ball."

Sophomore Charles Corbin and freshman Andre Jones hit big 3-pointers in Saturday's 65-63 win over Appalachian State and the Eagles shot 46 percent, their fourth straight game over the 40 mark, a sign, Peele says, of improvement.

"We've won three in a row," he said, "so the really important issue right now is what improvement can we make in this last week. We've got to get everybody playing well."


What: Winthrop (9-18, 7-9) vs. Charleston Southern (8-18, 3-12)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Winthrop Coliseum

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