Winthrop had just pounded Presbyterian 93-56, and Pat Kelsey and his assistant coaches were huddled in the small coach’s room about to enter the players’ locker room. Kelsey asked his assistants what they guessed the atmosphere would be like when they entered.
“After we beat Illinois and I came in, they kind of played a trick on me,” Kelsey said. “They were just kind of sitting there, I walked in and said ‘what the heck,’ and they jumped up and were pouring Gatorade on me. It was crazy.”
The players were again chill and relaxed Saturday. But this was no trick. Winthrop's win Saturday clinched the school’s first No. 1 seed in the Big South tournament since 2006-07, and second regular season title in two years after tying for first with High Point last season.
“It’s a heck of an accomplishment, something they should be proud of,” Kelsey said. “Everybody has scholarships and everybody’s well-coached and to go through that conference slate the way they did, that’s something those kids should be proud of, and I think they are.”
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They’ve been through this a lot and there is a hungry group in there that feel like, I don’t want to speak for them, but I think they’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey
The Eagles (23-6, 15-3 Big South) put Presbyterian to the sword midway through the first half, enabling most of the large group of Eagles fans to follow the Gardner-Webb-High Point game on their phones. The Runnin’ Bulldogs held off the Panthers in overtime, clinching the league championship for Winthrop thanks to a tie-breaker over UNC-Asheville. Big South men’s basketball head honcho Jeff Jackson present the team its championship trophy in the Templeton Center visitors locker room after the game.
The Eagles’ 23rd win tied the 2004-05 squad for the second-most regular season victories in the school’s Division I history, and confirmed a return to the college basketball postseason. At the very least, Winthrop have the league’s NIT bid in its back pocket.
“It feels amazing,” redshirt senior Tevin Prescott said about wrapping up the No. 1 seed. “We’re in the stretch of the season where every game could be our last so we’ve got to keep approaching it like we’ve been approaching it the whole year.”
Presbyterian’s Ruben Arroyo dropped in a bucket out of a timeout to bring the Blue Hose within six points (19-13) with 11 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first half. Winthrop rattled off a 13-2 run from there to blow the game open, Anders Broman canning consecutive 3s and Keon Johnson swishing a baseline jumper to force the hosts into a 30-second timeout after an 8-0 run made it 27-13, Winthrop.
On offense, Winthrop popped the ball around the perimeter like a viral internet video, often resulting in an open 3-point look for Roderick Perkins, Johnson or Broman. In the first half alone, the Eagles made eight 3s, had a 14-2 free throw attempt advantage over the hosts and only turned the ball over three times en route to 49 points.
They finished with 16 3-pointers, the team’s fourth game in a row with 10 or more conversions from beyond the arc, many of them coming from an extra pass that spurned a good look at the basket for a great one.
“It had to of been,” Broman said about a possible season-high in extra pass 3s. “But we had a lot of passes out there and everyone was involved.”
Johnson poured in 15 points in the first half alone, finishing with 17. He came out of the game for good with about 10 minutes left, promptly slipping of his shoes once he took a seat. The star senior is closing in on the 2,000-point threshold, which only nine other Big South players have ever reached.
Johnson got plenty of help from the Eagles’ other outside assassins, Perkins (18 points) and Broman (17), who combined for 35 points and 11 3-pointers.
Winthrop faces the winner of Charleston Southern-Longwood at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament Thursday at the Winthrop Coliseum. Charleston Southern and Longwood play 7 p.m. Tuesday night in the tournament’s first round.
WINTHROP 93, PRESBYTERIAN 56
Perkins 6-8 0-0 18, Okeke 1-1 0-2 2, B.Broman 1-4 0-0 3, Johnson 4-11 6-6 17, Cooks 5-10 4-4 14, Hill 1-2 0-0 2, Davenport 1-1 2-2 4, Poole 1-2 0-0 3, Prescott 2-3 0-0 4, Ferguson 1-3 1-2 3, Pickett 0-3 2-2 2, Sadlon 0-0 0-0 0, A.Broman 6-9 0-0 17, Blake 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 31-59 15-18 93.
Drew 5-12 3-3 13, TeTe 1-4 0-2 2, Younger 3-11 0-0 7, Adams 4-9 0-0 8, Dillard 3-9 0-0 7, Arroyo 3-10 0-0 7, Osu 0-0 0-0 0, Venable 0-2 0-0 0, Carraway 0-0 0-0 0, Withers 0-2 0-0 0, Moore 4-8 0-0 12. Totals 23-67 3-5 56.
Halftime—Winthrop 49-28. 3-Point Goals—Winthrop 16-33 (Perkins 6-7, A.Broman 5-7, Johnson 3-9, Poole 1-2, B.Broman 1-4, Pickett 0-1, Hill 0-1, Cooks 0-2), Presbyterian 7-24 (Moore 4-7, Dillard 1-1, Arroyo 1-4, Younger 1-6, Withers 0-2, Adams 0-4). Fouled Out—Moore. Rebounds—Winthrop 34 (Okeke 6), Presbyterian 31 (Drew 10). Assists—Winthrop 21 (Cooks 5), Presbyterian 11 (Dillard 6). Total Fouls—Winthrop 12, Presbyterian 17. A—431 (2,300).