Winthrop plays at Charleston Southern this afternoon in an attempt to keep history from repeating itself.
This two-game road trip to the South Carolina coast - at Coastal Carolina and then at CSU - produced two losses last season and marked the low point of the 2009-10 season. The 57-54 loss to the Buccaneers snapped Winthrop's 17-game win streak over the school.
The Bucs (10-8, 4-2 Big South) are making strides toward becoming an upper tier team in the Big South. They beat Presbyterian, 76-71, at the CSU Fieldhouse on Thursday night. Senior guard Jamarco Warren, a preseason all-conference selection, scored a team-high 22. Junior forward Kelvin Martin had 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Blue Hose played without center Al'Lonzo Coleman who is lost for the season with a broken foot.
CSU finished last - or tied for last - in three of coach Barclay Radebaugh's first five seasons. The team came on to finish seventh in the 10-team league last season at 7-11 and then gave No. 2 seeded Radford all they could handle in the first round of the conference tournament before losing 64-61.
Charleston Southern is off to its best start in the conference in Radebaugh's tenure. The Bucs sit alone in third place behind Coastal Carolina and Liberty. The school hasn't enjoyed a .500 season since the 2002-03 campaign when the Bucs went 14-14 and 8-6 in the Big South.
"We're hanging in there. We play well at times. We still have a lot to improve on," Radebaugh said.
Winthrop's last four games against CSU have been nail-biters. Each game has been decided by five or fewer points. The last time the teams met, Jan. 28, 2010, in Rock Hill, Winthrop won 55-53. The Eagles missed 14-of-22 free throws and squandered a 15-point lead. Winthrop fans held their breath until Jeremy Sexton's jumper to tie the game at the buzzer fell short of the mark.
Radebaugh and Winthrop coach Randy Peele acknowledge the matchup challenges they will face today.
"CSU is the worst possible matchup in the league for us because they are small," Peele said. The Bucs will play with a frontcourt standing 6-foot-7 and 6-5. "They play three guys on perimeter and they are all good."
Barclay sees it the other way.
"Winthrop's size is a challenge for us," Radebaugh said. The Eagles go 6-8 and 6-9 inside and can go even bigger with 6-11 Julius Francis.
"They are always a good defensive team, and Randy is a great coach. As far as our recent games against them, I don't think it's any one particular thing we've gotten better at. We are more competitive in the league as a whole than we've been."
Case in point: Coastal Carolina needed a last-second dunk by Chad Gray to push past Charleston Southern, 73-71, on Dec. 4 at Kimbel Arena in Conway in the Big South Conference opener for both teams. CSU's Warren tied the game on a layup with 7 seconds to go.
Warren is the conference's active leader in career points with 1,690 entering today's game. He is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. He has hit 41 of them this season and is two shy of becoming the fifth player in Big South history with 300 career treys.
Winthrop hasn't let Warren have a huge offensive night. In six games against the Eagles he's averaging 13 points. Of course, the Eagles had two-time Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson who was charged with hounding the Bucs' 5-11 guard.
"Warren is one of hardest matchups in college basketball," Peele estimated. "He can score against any team in the country. He has a green light to shoot. He's small, but jet quick."
Look for Robbie Dreher to draw Warren as his defensive assignment today.
Peele said he and assistant coach Paul Molinari worked on Charleston Southern until about 3 a.m. Friday. The coaches have determined the team has become a bunch of jump shooters.
"We just have to do better job getting the ball inside," Peele said. "Our first post feed came 12 minutes into the first half at Coastal Carolina. The kids don't see that on the court. They saw it on film. We don't have the right balance. Now we just have to carry it over to the game."
Winthrop (7-9, 3-3) is coming off a 74-69 loss in Conway on Thursday night.