If Winthrop gets the same kind of spark from Charles Corbin, who returns from his suspension tonight, that they got from Robbie Dreher - who is the Big South's Player of the Week - things could be looking up for the Eagles.
Winthrop (4-4) plays Charlotte (3-5) for the third straight season at 7:30 tonight in Halton Arena. The 49ers lead the series 2-0 winning 7-53 in Charlotte in 2008-09 and 57-47 last season in Rock Hill.
Corbin, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, will make his season debut tonight. His absence was really felt in Saturday's loss at Liberty. When George Valentine got into early foul trouble, the Eagles lack of depth inside was exposed.
"Charles plays hard and he brings an element of toughness to get tough rebounds," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. "He can make tough baskets inside."
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Valentine was solid in the first seven games for Winthrop averaging nine points and nine rebounds. He was also picking up the toughest defensive assignment in each game. On Saturday he was whistled for two fouls in the first four minutes and finished the night with no points and two rebounds in just 13 minutes of action.
Peele said after the game that Valentine was the one guy the team couldn't afford to lose.
With Corbin back, Peele has another experienced inside player to go with Valentine and Matt Morgan who is struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Redshirt-freshman Julius Francis played 12 uneventful minutes against the Flames and finished with a rebound and a foul to his credit.
Dreher and Corbin were suspended to start the season for their part in an off-campus incident in the spring. Dreher missed the first three games. Corbin was originally slated to sit out for the first 11 outings but that was reduced last week.
Dreher, a sophomore from Greenville, has scored 20 or more points three times in his five games this season. He scored a career-high 20 in his first game at Wake Forest on Nov. 22 and then bettered that effort with 28 points at VMI on Dec. 2. He netted 21 in Saturday's 75-72 loss at Liberty.
For the week, Dreher was 15-of-33 from the floor, 6-of-13 from 3-point range and went 13-of-16 from the foul line.
Charlotte has encountered some of the same issues as Winthrop with suspensions. Senior forward Shamari Spears, a preseason second-team all-Atlantic 10 pick, has been suspended indefinitely. He is scoring 17 points a game. That has left the 49ers with a nine-man roster, with only seven scholarshipped players.
Charlotte played with just six scholarshipped players vs. Gardner-Webb in a 78-70 setback at Halton Arena on Nov. 12, due to one-game suspensions to Spears and guard An'Juan Wilderness. Against South Carolina State, Spears and Wilderness returned but center Phil Jones served a one-game suspension.
Charles Dewhurst, who has returned to limited practice from a knee injury, may be closing in on his season debut, which would give Charlotte its eighth active scholarshipped player.
Peele's not looking past a depleted Charlotte team that trounced Radford, 73-52, on Saturday.
"In order to win we must get back in transition defense and not allow easy baskets like we did on Saturday," Peele said. "We must limit them to one and done. (At Liberty) we gave up 21 points of off second shots. We have to do a good job defending there offense."
Winthrop guard Reggie Middleton did not practice Sunday. He is recovering from two separate left leg injuries but Peele said he will play tonight. Middleton has come off the bench in the last two games.
Tonight's game is the closest road contest of the season. Halton Arena is 36 miles from Rock Hill.
"This is a great game for our area and community. I hope we have a great turnout," Peele said.