On the shot that put Winthrop into the Big South Conference men’s basketball tournament semifinals, Eagles guard Andre Smith said he couldn’t even see the rim.
Smith’s 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left in Friday afternoon’s matchup with North Division No. 1 seed High Point (16-14) gave the Eagles (19-12) a 62-60 win, after the Panthers failed to get a shot off before the buzzer.
“That last play was exactly how we drew it up. Give it to Andre and dribble around for a while and then shoot a floater from NBA range,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, before clarifying: “I’m just kidding.”
“I don’t know how I got the shot off, and I really don’t know how it went in, still,” said Smith, who scored 12 points in the game. “I didn’t see the rim, and I didn’t see the ball go in either.”
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After Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19 seconds left that would’ve extended the Eagles’ lead, High Point’s Adam Weary drove into the lane for two points to give Scott Cherry’s team a 60-59 lead with 5.2 seconds left in an almost identical repeat of Weary’s game-winner against the Eagles on Feb. 1.
“In my head I was thinking, ‘here we go again,’ ” said Winthrop redshirt junior Keon Moore, who led all scorers with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting. “I remember when (Smith) missed the free throw, I’m usually an emotional person going into the huddles, but I just hit ‘Smitty’ on the chest and told him ‘don’t stop playing,’ and that’s what he did.”
On Feb. 1, Winthrop missed a layup at the buzzer and lost to the Panthers. But this time, Smith snatched the in-bounds pass, dribbled toward the far corner, wheeled back and, surrounded by three High Point jumpers, flung a shot at the rim that splashed through. Smith was immediately sandwiched by giddy teammates, but 0.5 seconds were put back on the clock after an official review.
High Point’s Derrell Edwards ran the baseline and tossed a lengthy pass to John Brown, but he didn’t get a shot attempt up in time.
“It’s a breath-taker,” said Brown, the league’s player of the year who finished with 17 points. “Can’t do nothing about it once it leaves his hands.”
Winthrop’s largest lead in the game was five points, indicative of how tight the contest was from the first seconds to the last. After Smith’s dribble-drive for two points and Joab Jerome’s pair of free throws, Winthrop led 38-33 with 12 minutes, 8 seconds left, but that was the biggest cushion either side created during a tense 40 minutes.
Moore got going with seven straight points at one juncture of the second half, knocking down threes and driving to the bucket with equal ease.
“I was feeling it,” he said afterward. “It was just a good feeling getting some good looks. My teammates set me up with some good shots and getting great screens from my big men, like all year.”
Smith, who was limited to four minutes of action in the first half because of foul trouble, dropped in a floater off a curl into the lane to make it 55-51 Winthrop, before Larry Brown slipped open on an in-bounds play for an easy slam to give the Eagles a 57-53 lead with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining.
High Point’s Devante Wallace flicked in a 3-pointer following a timeout to cut the Winthrop lead to one, but Larry Brown made another heads-up play, saving a loose ball under the basket to Moore, who finished strongly over John Brown.
It was a table-tennis match from there. John Brown knocked down a pair of free throws with 29.5 seconds left, and Winthrop had to burn its final two timeouts trying to get the ball upcourt. They finally did and Smith was fouled with 19 seconds left. But he left the first shot of a one-and-one short and High Point rushed into the frontcourt to call timeout.
“After that free throw I felt pretty bad, like I’d let my team down,” said Smith. “I really just wanted to get it back on defense.
Weary got the ball, sized up Larry Brown and drove past him, looping a shot up and in. Smith’s head dropped, if only for a sliver of a second.
“Once they scored, I was like, ‘wow, I really let my team down.’”
But that left 5.2 seconds for Winthrop to muster a riposte, and boy, did they, Smith dropping in the winner to the ecstatic delight of his teammates.
“He made a heck of a play,” said Kelsey, calling Smith’s shot one “he’ll tell his grandchildren about.”
While walking out of the postgame press conference, Smith was asked if he’d ever hit any buzzer beaters like that before.
“A couple,” he said with a confident nod and a game-winning grin.