Adam Pickett’s prolonged stare at the High Point player wasn’t about being mean or intimidating. The Winthrop junior was having too much fun to think about that.
Pickett’s glare followed a basket-plus-the-foul during a decisive 8-0 run, part of a much better second half performance that pushed Winthrop to a 76-60 win over High Point and a 1-0 start in Big South Conference men’s basketball play. Freshman and usual starter Kyle Zunic was out with an ankle injury but Pickett, making just the second start of his three-year Winthrop career, scored 14 points to give the Eagles an unexpected jolt.
“I think Adam Pickett was a big spark for us,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “I’ve joked about it before, he either sparks us or sparks the other team. But I don’t think we win the game without him. He stepped up.”
Bjorn Broman pitched in 14 points and his older brother Anders scored 13 to help the cause. Xavier Cooks also scored in double figures and two other Eagles had at least eight in a balanced offensive effort.
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Neither team had played since Dec. 19, which led to an ugly conference opener.
The Eagles (7-5, 1-0 Big South) were in front 30-29 at the break following a first half that revealed both teams’ rust. High Point (5-7, 0-1) shot just 25 percent from the field but had six more field goal attempts because of Winthrop turnovers. Pickett’s strong first half was central to Winthrop’s lead, especially considering Xavier Cooks’ sloppy first 20 minutes. He turned the ball over four times in the first quarter of the game and picked up two fouls, while going scoreless.
“We can’t hold a preseason first team, possible player of the year to one shot and zero points in the first half and be down one,” High Point coach Scott Cherry said afterward.
But the lanky Australian got cooking early in the second half, assisting a pair of Winthrop buckets before driving baseline to score his first points and push the Eagles’ advantage to 37-31.
The 8-0 run shortly thereafter put Winthrop in control. Pickett went one-on-one with High Point’s Austin White, bumping off the guard to draw a foul then dropping in the shot. He stared at White with a grin on his face as he headed to the free throw line.
“He always gives us a spark,” said Bjorn Broman. “I don’t know how many deflections he had in that first five minutes. Really set the tone.”
Winthrop redshirt senior Anders Broman followed with a 3 to make it 52-38. The Eagles out-scored the visitors by 15 in the second period.
“We knew coming out something had to change,” said Bjorn Broman.
High Point entered the game as one of the country’s best at stealing the basketball. Cherry’s team did nothing to harm that ranking Saturday, racking up 19 steals as Winthrop turned the ball over 25 times.
But the Panthers labored offensively, especially close to the rim where they made just 7 of 19 layups. Winthrop converted 11 of its 16 shots considered layups, and held the Panthers to 32 percent shooting.
“We’ve got to get better offensively,” said Cherry. “Point-blank layups at the rim and transition opportunities we get fouled, then we don’t make free throws. That’s killing our defense. Too much pressure on our defense to sustain that the whole basketball game.”
Pickett found out at Saturday morning’s shoot-around that he would start in place of Zunic, who didn’t play.
Pickett had 11 points in the first half, and later bested the career high he achieved against Truett-McConnell during his second college basketball game back in 2015. Pickett might have thought his career was just about to take off, but it never really has. He’s only scored 10 or more points in four of the 64 games since.
“Starting was a different feeling, definitely wasn’t used to it,” said Pickett. “The first four minutes is super tiring. It was definitely different, but felt good.”
Bjorn Broman was out-sized and out-muscled by most of the High Point guards but still got to the rim, where he scored a couple of nice finger-rolled layups en route to his fifth game in double figures this season. He also had seven rebounds and was incredibly proud of his one offensive rebound in the postgame press conference.
Cooks had three turnovers in the first 3 minutes and picked up two fouls. He finished the first half with five turnovers and no points, but was a different player in the second half. He finished with 13 points.
Winthrop heads to Radford on Wednesday, Jan. 3 for its second Big South game.