Winthrop's 73-66 win over Jacksonville was a good way to end a two-game losing streak. The team that lost a close game at Liberty and got off to a horrible start at Charlotte were no where to be found Sunday at the Winthrop Coliseum.
The 1,656 fans on hand (much too small a number) got a taste of what this Eagles' team can do; and what they can't do.
The Eagles can:
Break opponent's full court pressure and get easy baskets.
Winthrop scored the first 10 points of the game Sunday against a Jacksonville team that had feasted on creating turnovers. Andre Jones and Reggie Middleton scored on layups after strategic passing and good ball handling broke the pressure resulting in 3-on-2 situations. Middleton was called for a charge on a third opportunity where an extra pass would have led to another layup.
The Eagles tied their season-low with just 10 turnovers in the game. Middleton, Jones, Justin Burton, and Robbie Dreher all made good decisions with the ball. Gideon Gamble, aside from one errant pass, and freshman Joab Jerome showed good poise as well.
Count on backcourt scoring.
Dreher and Jones have become the team's most consistent scorers this season. Dreher scored 18 points on Sunday to boost his average up to 15.6 points per game. He has scored in double figures in five of his seven games. He won't show up among the conference leaders until he has played in 75 percent of his team's contests, though. Look for him in the standings 20 games into the season.
Jones has shaken off a sophomore slump. He's connecting on 46 percent of his shots from the floor and nearly 45 percent on 3-pointers. It's obvious he's having fun on the court. That's the result of a scoring average of 13.1 instead of last year's 5.9.
Expect Jerome to be an impact.
Jerome has played more than 11 minutes a game in the last five outings, Peele is putting the freshman on the floor at crucial times as a defensive stopper and as another ball handler. His production isn't showing as much in the box scores as it is in the hustle stats like deflected passes, taking charges, helping out on defense.
Winthrop coach Randy Peele says Jerome is making "senior-like" plays on defense. One sure way to force your way into Peele's lineup is to play defense, and that's exactly where Jerome is making his mark.
The Eagles can't:
Afford to have Middleton or George Valentine in foul trouble.
Middleton hasn't fouled out of a game; yet. He has earned four personal fouls in each of his last two games and the extra whistles are curbing his minutes. Sunday he sat out the final eight minutes of the first half after his second foul. He finished the night with nine points, three boards and an assist in 16 minutes but you'd rather see his numbers when he plays 30 minutes.
On Sunday, Valentine was a rebound away from his third double-double of the season. When he is on the floor, Winthrop is at its best. He is the one player that has to stay out of foul trouble. He picked up three quick fouls at Liberty on Dec. 4 and the team could not find itself without him.
Depend on the outside shot.
I had a basketball coach in high school that used to tell us 'offense is like a fickle old lady. You never know what she's going to do.' Winthrop doesn't have to go too far back - the NCAA Play-in game where they shot 29 percent from the floor and made just 2-of-21 3-point attempts in a 61-44 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff - to see how fickle their offense can be.
Gideon Gamble is a streaky shooter. Winthrop needs to get him the ball and get out of the way when he's on. Jones and Dreher are taking, and making, high percentage shots.
Keeping Valentine and recently-returned Charles Corbin involved in the offense is critical to balance the attack. Matt Morgan hasn't found his stroke, or his confidence, yet.
Winthrop plays at Dayton on Monday. The 7-3 Flyers lost at Old Dominion on Dec. 11 and will play Western Carolina at UD Arena two days ahead of the Winthrop game.
Peele said he is eager to get back to Dayton - the site of the Eagles NCAA Play-in loss back in March - to "show those fans up there" who Winthrop is.