Winthrop is two games into a pivotal five-game stretch of the schedule with the third game to be played tonight at Presbyterian College; so far, so good.
The Eagles (9-10, 5-4 Big South) wrapped up the first half of the conference schedule with a pair of home wins. The team shot a season-best 60.4 percent from the floor in a 77-49 win over High Point on Jan. 22. They are shooting almost 54 percent as a team in the last two outings.
Those shooting numbers are fantastic for a group that was hitting 39.8 percent a week ago.
Now it's on to Clinton to play the Blue Hose for the second time this season. The Eagles have had a week to prepare for the game, but then again, so has PC.
Presbyterian College (9-12, 3-6) led Winthrop for all but 16 seconds in a New Year's Eve contest in Rock Hill. Winthrop tied the game at 51 on a layup by Andre Jones. PC's Pierre Miller was called for an off-the-ball foul sending Winthrop's Reggie Middleton to the free-throw line with one second to go. Middleton made one foul shot and Charles Corbin made another with a fraction of a second on the clock to give the Eagles a dramatic 53-51 win.
"We struggled to score against their defense," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. "PC's ball pressure is good and they extend every ball catch. We have to do a better job offensively against their defense. Their physicality bothered us."
Corbin finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Robbie Dreher had 11 and Jones 10 in that win.
The Eagles started the PC game with three turnovers in the first four possessions. Winthrop missed its first seven shots and needed five-and-a-half minutes to get its first field goal.
Winthrop has won the last seven meetings with PC but three of the last five games have been decided by three points or less.
The difference-maker in the three tight games was PC center Al'Lonzo Coleman. With him in the Winthrop took a 54-53 overtime win at PC and a 50-47 victory in Rock Hill during the 2008-09 season.
Coleman, the team's leader in scoring and rebounding, broke his foot on Jan. 8 vs. UNC Asheville. He is done for the season. He was in the top 10 in the conference in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (8.1).
Although Coleman won't play, Winthrop's preparation hasn't differed too much for this game.
"We are still practicing like they have Coleman. They will still run the same plays," Winthrop forward Matt Morgan said.
Peele wasn't sure after Friday's practice how much he would trap PC's big man Jake Troyli who has started in place of Coleman. Trapping Coleman on the baseline was part of the Eagles game plan in the first meeting.
Winthrop couldn't keep the ball out of Coleman's hands, especially in the first half, when the teams met earlier this season in the Winthrop Coliseum. Coleman posted up on the low block and PC fed him repeatedly. The offense ran through Coleman as the Blue Hose built a 12-point halftime edge and led by as many as 15 early in the second half.
In the first meeting with Winthrop, Pierre Miller and Khalid Mutakabbir had 14 points each.
PC coach Gregg Nibert has regrouped his team.
He has re-inserted 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Jake Troyli into the starting lineup. Troyli started last season when Coleman took a redshirt year.
Peele said Troyli had a good freshman year last season - 12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds - but thinks being the team's second option, behind Coleman, was a tough adjustment this year. Troyli is back to being a centerpiece in the team's offense, and he's contributing.
Troyli had 21 points - one off of his career-high - and six rebounds to help his team beat Radford. In the four games since Coleman's injury, the power forward out of Largo, Fla. has averaged 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. He's deadly from the line, too. He has made 13-of-15 free throws in the last four games.
The Blue Hose topped last-place Radford, 67-61, to snap a four-game losing streak.
Troyli has played in three games career against Winthrop with less than stellar results. He's missed 21 of his 26 shots and been in foul trouble two times. Last time out vs. the Eagles he saw just nine minutes of action, was 0-for-2 from the floor and pulled down three rebounds.
PC guards Mutakabbir, Miller and Josh Johnson are all capable scorers particularly from 3-point range.