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Eagles look to get back on track against Blue Hose

Timing can mean everything in college basketball; be it a pass or a pick, a screen or a schedule.

In Winthrop's case, the schedule has the Eagles (5-7, 1-1 Big South) coming into tonight's game against the Blue Hose of Presbyterian after lopsided losses at Dayton and Kentucky. The Eagles lost by 15 to the Flyers and by 37 to the Wildcats.

The back-to-back blowouts are the worst for Winthrop since last season's 102-66 loss at Clemson, followed by a 19-point loss at Appalachian State in late November.

Presbyterian College (6-7, 1-1) enters the contestflying high following the two biggest wins in its Division I program history. Presbyterian won 62-59 at Auburn and 66-64 at Wake Forest.

Presbyterian lost 63-54 at Old Dominion on Dec. 23 to snap the team's three-game winning streak. Al'Lonzo Coleman scored 17 points to lead all scorers in that game.

Old Dominion (9-2), of the Colonial Conference, is a better opponent than the SEC's Auburn and the ACC's Wake Forest this season. Presbyterian led by four points with less than 10 minutes left, but went scoreless for a five-minute stretch.

Coleman, Pierre Miller and Josh Johnson are three juniors who red-shirted last season. The plan was to have the trio ready to contend for a Big South Conference championship as seniors when the program's transition to Division I status is to be complete.

The timing backfired.

The NCAA Committee on Athletic Certification informed Presbyterian, a member of the Big South since 2008, it needed to continue transition process for another year - there will be no Big South tournament run for Coleman, Miller and Johnson. The team won't be eligible.

Presbyterian's first-year athletic director Brian Reese said on Oct. 7the decision weighed heavily on the team, especially the three red-shirted players.

"To be honest, this is huge for (Coleman, Miller and Johnson). They were staying here an extra year in hopes of being able to go to the postseason," Reese said.

Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert could hardly believe the response he got from his team when he called a meeting to reveal the NCAA committee's findings.

"I felt so bad for them," Nibert said in October. "But they said, 'Coach, we're going to be here for these two years, we're going to play for the Lord, this school, this program and you.'"

Nibert said he gave the juniors the opportunity to transfer. No one accepted the offer.

"It was the greatest testimony I've heard, and I've been coaching for 30-some years," Nibert said. "I was as proud as I've ever been as a coach for what those guys said in that locker room. There wasn't a dry eye in the house."

Presbyterian won five games last season playing with one of the youngest teams in the nation. With Coleman, Miller and Johnson back, the Blue Hose were picked to finish fourth in the 10-team Big South. The team has already surpassed its 2009 win total this season despite playing 12 of its 13 games on the road.

At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, Coleman does a lot of damage inside. Against Kansas State on Nov. 18, he had 15 points and 14 rebounds. He had 15 rebounds at Auburn on Dec. 18. He had a double-double performance at Winthrop on Feb. 14, 2009 with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Coleman is averaging 15.1 points and eight rebounds coming into tonight's game.

Miller averages 8.9 points and 4.2 assists per game. Johnson missed six games, including the first two Big South contests at Liberty and at VMI. He had four 3-pointers in a 67-66 win at Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 20.

Sophomore Khalid Mutakabbir is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game. He is the most proficient shooter: 56.6 percent from the floor, 58.1 percent on 3-point attempts.

Winthrop's George Valentine suffered a leg injury in practice prior to the Dec. 20 game at Dayton. Winthrop coach Randy Peele has said that the 6-foot-9 redshirt-junior is the one guy he can't afford to lose this season.

Valentine did not start at Dayton but played 24 minutes, with one rebound and no points. Winthrop lost, 73-58. He was held out of the Kentucky game on Dec. 22.

The Eagles are at home for the first time since a Dec. 12 win over Jacksonville State. Valentine was healthy for that game. He had 12 points, 9 rebounds and played solid defense.

Winthrop has been led offensively by three guards; sophomore Robbie Dreher , junior Andre Jones and junior Reggie Middleton who are scoring in double figures. Senior Charles Corbin scored 27 points in the games at Dayton and Kentucky.

The Eagles got a season-best performance from junior forward Matt Morgan who scored 18 points and had seven rebounds at Kentucky. If Morgan can regain the form he showed in the second half of last season, his timing would be perfect. Tonight's game begins 14-straight conference games.