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Defensive improvements boosting Eagles

Maybe because they've spent so much time together, a lot of words weren't necessary.

Whatever the reason, the seniors on Winthrop's basketball team that have orchestrated a remarkable turnaround said there were no special meetings or impassioned speeches at the beginning of their recent two-game win streak.

"It's not like we sat down and had a meeting or anything," center George Valentine said. "I don't know that a whole lot needed to be said."

Valentine, along with guards Andre Jones and Reggie Middleton and forward Matt Morgan, have stepped into more prominent roles during the mini-streak, and each were outstanding in Saturday's win at VMI, with Jones scoring 27 and the other three setting career highs in some statistical category in the 91-84 win.

The biggest difference has been on defense, as they held Radford to 32.7 percent shooting from the floor, and VMI to 38.7 percent in the first half.

The Keydets starting filling it up in the second half of Saturday's win, making 14 of 22 from the floor (63.6 percent), but Winthrop's ability to withstand that kind of run shows hints of the ability to finish that were absent earlier in the year. Considering they had just coughed up last-minute leads to lose in overtime to Georgia and UNC Asheville, it's a tangible sign of progress.

"I think it was just about getting our confidence back," Morgan said. "We probably got down on ourselves a little bit there, but we know it's just about making that one extra stop, that one extra play to push us over the top.

"We didn't have to talk about it, we just knew we didn't want to be at the bottom of the Big South. So we put in the work on the defensive end, and you see what happens."

On the road again: After enjoying three straight in their own building, the Eagles hit the road this week, going to High Point on Thursday and Liberty on Saturday.

Big South teams are 18-10 on their own floors this year, with only Presbyterian (1-3) and tied-for-last Radford (0-2) losing more than once at home. That takes some of the shine off Winthrop's road win at Presbyterian in December, as the Blue Hose have also dropped home contests to Campbell and High Point.

Statistically speaking: Winthrop's guards are second in the league in their respective categories, with Jones second in the league in scoring and Middleton second in assists.

After scoring 27 against VMI, Jones pumped his average to 19.1 points per game, which trails only Campbell's Darren White (20.0) in that category.

While Jones could still catch the guy he's chasing, Middleton's at a little more of a disadvantage.

Even after setting career-highs each of the past two games (11 against Radford and 12 against VMI), Middleton's averaging 4.9 per game. Liberty's Jesse Sanders is comfortably atop the conference at 8.3 per game.

Jones is also second in the league in minutes played at 34.6 per game, third in the league in free throw percentage at 81.2, third in 3-point percentage at 41.8, seventh in field goal percentage at 50.9 and eighth in steals at 1.5.

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