The biggest test in the next week for Winthrop junior Tevin Prescott will be his Calculus II final. And for redshirt senior Keon Moore, a history major, it will be a 15-page historiographical paper.
On the cusp of exam week, Prescott, Moore and the rest of the Eagle basketball players had one final basketball examination Tuesday night.
Typical of an up-and-down juncture in the season, Winthrop, fresh off a 20-point loss to Big 10 power Maryland on Sunday, won its 37th straight game against non-Division I opposition, beating Mars Hill 96-51 at Winthrop Coliseum.
The Eagles (4-4) made just 4-of-18 3-pointers, but forced 25 Mars Hill (5-4) turnovers that led to 30 Winthrop points.
“Coach (Pat Kelsey) wants us to attack everything we do, but before he said anything in the locker room he brought up academics and how important putting this game behind us is,” said Moore. “I think we did a good job with that.”
The Eagles don’t play again until Dec. 17 at Auburn. Their last exams won’t be finished until next Tuesday, Dec. 16.
“Part of being a student-athlete, part of being a college basketball player, priority No. 1 is to earn their degree,” said Kelsey. “We’ve all been there; it’s unbelievably stressful. That’s sort of when I started my addiction to coffee, 1998, getting ready for Dr. Kloppenburg’s management exam. But, that’s where our sole attention is right now.”
Grades were on a lot of college basketball minds this week. Tuesday night’s contest was one of six games Big South Conference teams played against non-Division I foes this week, and the second of three Winthrop will play this season. Mars Hill, coached by former longtime Gardner-Webb head man Rick Scruggs, had already played four South Atlantic Conference games prior to Tuesday night’s contest at Winthrop Coliseum. But regardless of how battle-tested the Lions were, they didn’t have the horses to run with Winthrop.
“Our guys compete all the time, but that was a big point of emphasis today,” said Kelsey.
Moore led the Eagles with 17 points, Keon Johnson added 14 and Xavier Cooks and Prescott each pitched in seven points and 10 rebounds. Nine Eagles scored seven or more points in the game. Winthrop got to the free throw line 37 times (to Mars Hill’s 12) and also out-boarded the visitors 49-34.
“We came in to play hard and we did what we had to do,” said Prescott. “One thing (Kelsey) talked about was for us to compete tonight regardless of who the opponent is, whether it’s a Division III school or a big-time Division I.”
Winthrop’s big halftime lead was built on Mars Hill turnovers. The visiting Lions gave the ball away 14 times in the first half, leading to 16 Winthrop points. The game would’ve have been beyond Mars Hill much earlier were it not for Patrick Monroe’s four first half 3-pointers. He hit three straight in a two-minute stretch to get Scruggs’ team with five, at 24-19, the last of those a contested triple in font of the Winthrop bench that drew a timeout from Kelsey with 8 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first half.
“Coach (Skip) Prosser used to call that ‘aggressive counseling,’” said Kelsey. “It wasn’t us. We got a little ‘fluffy’ there, as we like to say.”
Whatever friendly message Kelsey shared in the huddle got his players’ attention. They rattled off 12 points without response from Mars Hill, Prescott’s up-and-under finish on the baseline and Moore’s pilfer and slam the highlights. Derrick Henry’s two free throws made it 36-19, before Brandon McCarter scored to break the Eagles’ run with 4 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first.
Moore and Johnson – “the Keon’s” until a more suitable nickname can be drummed up – scored eight of Winthrop’s last 12 points in the first half, Moore stripping a Mars Hill ball-handler, going around his back and thumping home a slam to make it 50-28 at the intermission.
The second half was a choppy 20 minutes full of fouls, the first whistled inside six seconds. The Eagles were never threatened and pulled further ahead later, enabling Kelsey to send in his deeper bench players. Walk-on Mitch Hill hit a 3, then found Kellen Blake with a nice transition bounce pass for a bucket. Blake scored seven points in his three minutes of action.
Perhaps the one negative, Johnson left the game in the second half and later reemerged from the locker room with an ice pack saran-wrapped around his right ankle.