Winthrop still hasn’t lost consecutive men’s basketball games this season.
The Eagles shook off a deflating double overtime loss to UNC Asheville on Thursday to edge Gardner-Webb 77-71 at home on Saturday.
“These last 36 hours were a blur,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “You have those crucial points in your season and I felt like walking out of that locker room, I don’t want to say a crossroads, but it was a crucial point. And we challenged our guys to turn the page really quickly, have a great day of preparation and try to bring as much energy as we could to this 12 o’clock tip. I’m proud of our guys in that regard.”
Winthrop (19-6, 11-3 Big South) crucially kept chase with the league leaders UNC Asheville and Liberty. The Runnin’ Bulldogs lost their own double OT game Thursday night and the clear question was which side would be able to brush off those results and get a needed win less than 48 hours later. The Eagles won the energy battle, which manifested in players diving on the floor, saving possessions and hustling for a needed victory.
“We just wanted to keep the tempo going, keep pushing,” said Eagles redshirt senior Roderick Perkins. “Get offensive boards, keep attacking, that’s what we did.”
Gardner-Webb (14-13, 7-7) started strongly, scoring around the rim almost at will in the first 10 minutes of the game. Eighteen of the visitors’ first 21 points came in the paint - the other three from the foul line - as they alternately beat Winthrop big men down the floor for close-range looks, or put the ball on the hardwood and beat Eagle defenders for easy buckets. The hosts fell behind by seven points but clawed back into the contest just before the break by holding the Runnin’ Bulldogs without a field goal for nearly four minutes.
Gardner-Webb led 41-40 at the intermission but a nearly 10-minute stretch without a field goal allowed Winthrop to grab control of the contest. An 8-0 Winthrop run, capped by a silky Xavier Cooks floater, gave the Eagles a cushion they never relinquished.
The game was even throughout but Winthrop made several key plays late to claim the win. Gardner-Webb cut the Eagles’ lead to two but Anders Broman floated in a 3 with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left to make it 72-67, before Duby Okeke and Keon Johnson hauled in critical offensive rebounds inside the last minute to renew Winthrop offensive possessions, and more importantly keep Gardner-Webb from having the ball.
The Eagles didn’t shoot the ball well but grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to ensure extra offensive chances. That was a total reverse from the loss on Thursday when Asheville bullied Winthrop on the backboards but was indicative of an overall hustle that characterized the Eagles’ performance.
“Against Asheville we really got punched in the face,” Cooks said. “Today we really bounced back.”
Gardner-Webb’s point guard Laquincy Rideau struggled with foul trouble and he picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes left right in the midst of the Runnin’ Bulldogs stretch of offensive sluggishness.
Perkins scored 17 in the home win over UNC Asheville a couple of weeks ago but was only 3 of 18 from 3 in the games since. He gave Winthrop a lift Saturday, though, scoring 10 points, grabbing a couple of timely offensive rebounds and contributing defensively with two steals and a blocked shot, and a lobbed assist to Duby Okeke for a big dunk late.
“If you’re gonna be on the court and not be aggressive, you shouldn’t be out there,” Perkins said. “That’s what was important, whether it was shooting, rebounding or playing defense.”
Cooks scored 15 of his 22 in the first half, and was unlucky to not have more after a couple of shots spun around the rim and out. He also grabbed nine rebounds and was an offensive focal point on a day when Johnson didn’t have his best outing. Johnson struggled shooting-wise, making just 2 of 19 shots after scoring 40 against Asheville, but he converted 10 of 11 free throws, including several in the last minute, to finish with 15 points.
Adam Pickett didn’t play against UNC Asheville Thursday night but gave the Eagles a boost Saturday, making four steals, several of which led to easy scores. Kelsey, Cooks and Perkins all commended the sophomore for his reaction to not playing Thursday.
“He could have been sulking, all that kind of stuff, and he came in here just diving on loose balls,” Cooks said. “That’s what we need from Adam, is that energy.”
“That energy is contagious,” Perkins said.
After a challenging 72 hours, Winthrop can catch its breath a bit. The Eagles play Wednesday at Longwood.
WINTHROP 77, GARDNER-WEBB 71
GARDNER-WEBB (14-13): Niangane 2-4 0-0 4, Nelson 4-9 2-3 11, Robateau 3-5 4-5 11, Efianayi 4-13 4-5 13, Rideau 4-6 2-4 10, Laster 3-5 2-2 9, Miller 2-5 2-2 6, Turner 0-0 2-2 2, O’Reilly 1-2 3-4 5, Jamison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-49 21-27 71.
WINTHROP (19-6): Perkins 4-9 0-0 10, Okeke 3-4 0-6 6, K.Johnson 2-19 11-12 15, B.Broman 0-2 2-2 2, Cooks 8-21 5-7 23, Prescott 2-2 1-1 5, Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0, Davenport 4-5 0-0 8, Pickett 1-2 0-0 2, A.Broman 2-3 0-0 6. Totals 26-67 19-28 77.
Halftime—Gardner-Webb 41-40. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 4-10 (Nelson 1-1, Laster 1-1, Efianayi 1-2, Robateau 1-3, O’Reilly 0-1, Rideau 0-2), Winthrop 6-21 (A.Broman 2-2, Perkins 2-6, Cooks 2-7, B.Broman 0-1, K.Johnson 0-5). Fouled Out—Prescott, Rideau. Rebounds—Gardner-Webb 32 (Efianayi 8), Winthrop 37 (Cooks 10). Assists—Gardner-Webb 10 (Rideau 6), Winthrop 12 (Cooks 4). Total Fouls—Gardner-Webb 21, Winthrop 22. A—1,567 (6,100).