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Winthrop Eagles rediscover confidence in beating Gardner-Webb

When Reggie Middleton went to the free throw line, Winthrop down a point with 1.2 seconds left, there was one quiet man in the arena.

Then Middleton saw him, and there were two.

Winthrop's senior point guard buried all three of his free throws, calmed by a presence no one else saw as the Eagles came back for a 56-54 win over Gardner-Webb Thursday night.

He was inspired when he glanced behind the basket, where everyone was standing, and saw Weldon Hatcher sitting in row C, seat 9. The man Middleton referred to as "one of my dads" was there against his seat-back, just sitting, while the other 1,294 in attendance were freaking out.

Just sitting, and watching and waiting. Calmly.

"I had confidence in myself, but when I saw him sitting there, I knew I was going to make them," Middleton said.

Hatcher was there for Middleton when at 8 years old, his parents split. He's no longer with Middleton's mother, but the step-dad and step-son seemed to have a bond Thursday night.

As easily as Hatcher watched, Middleton's sleepy eyes showed no trace of nerves despite taking shots that could have, simply put, torpedoed a season if he missed.

That's what family can do for a man, apparently.

"He's the man that put the ball in my hands, basically," Middleton said with a grin. "Having him there, that makes me step up. I want to make my people proud all the time."

Consider that done, and a day well spent for Hatcher, a truck driver who still lives in Augusta, Ga., and was able to get t his first game here this season on his day off.

"I guess I've been watching him play so long, I kind of expect it," Hatcher said, smiling broadly having moved down two rows to accept congratulations. "He's become a great player. He's a tough player, a guy who doesn't mind having the ball in his hands in that situation.

"I'd say if you were a coach, he's the type of player you'd want on your team."

For Winthrop (8-12, 5-4), it was a shot of confidence it needed badly after losing a 13-point lead Tuesday to drop a home game to Campbell in the final moments. It had won a similar game at Liberty last Saturday, but being in so many close games, your sense of confidence can ebb from night to night with the result.

That's why every one of these wins -- coach Randy Peele has come to expect the stress -- seems so precious, because they take so much.

This one was no different, as they went vast stretches of game without scoring, made just 3-of-12 3-point attempts and watched the inappropriately named Runnin' Bulldogs storm back to take the lead with 1:17 left.

But that was followed by what Peele hangs his hat on - a defensive stop, with George Valentine's rebound setting the stage.

It only figures that Peele, who squeezes the blood out of every second of clock, went to his well-worn legal pads for the wrinkle that freed Middleton for the game-winning points.

Knowing Campbell had exposed them a bit by playing zone and watching them crumble, Peele came up with a play no one had seen -- meaning Gardner-Webb couldn't have scouted it. Middleton in-bounded to Gideon Gamble from the side, then dashed through a pair of baseline screens to get a relatively clean look at the basket. It was similar in theme to the play they ran for Andre Jones at G-W in December, but Jones' shot was contested and didn't go in, leading to the 62-60 loss there.

Peele put this wrinkle in near the end of Wednesday's practice, then reminded his guys about it pre-game.

The coach said the extra time-out the Bulldogs took when they saw the set helped, giving him one more chance to give directions.

Asked what the play was called, Valentine looked embarrassed.

"I don't remember," he said. "But I know what I was supposed to do."

After the foul, Valentine got to stand on the block and watch Middleton put them up a point, then retreated to the other end of the court, just in time to snare the baseball pass out of mid-air, spiking the ball and triggering the celebration that could finally begin for Middleton and Hatcher.

"Hey, I knew we were winning that game when he went to the line," Valentine said. "He knew, and I knew.

"That's what we do."

WINTHROP 56, GARDNER-WEBB 54

GARDNER-WEBB

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Johnson

17

1-3

0-0

2-4

0

5

2

Newsome

28

5-12

1-2

1-4

0

1

11

Byron

28

2-4

5-7

1-6

0

1

9

Strange

36

3-6

2-5

0-1

10

1

9

Landis

30

4-11

1-3

0-2

1

1

10

Harper

16

2-3

3-4

0-2

0

2

7

Brown

2

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Buggs

11

0-0

0-0

0-1

0

2

0

Hartley

26

2-4

0-0

2-6

1

3

6

Hensley

7

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

3

0

Totals

201

19-43

12-21

7-29

12

19

54

Percentages: FG .442, FT .571. 3-Point Goals: 4-13, .308 (Hartley 2-3, Strange 1-3, Landis 1-7). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 1 (Hensley). Turnovers: 18 (Strange 5, Landis 3, Hartley 3, Johnson 2, Harper 2, Buggs, Brown, Byron). Steals: 8 (Strange 3, Hartley 3, Landis, Newsome). Technical Fouls: None.

WINTHROP

Min

FG-A

FT-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Bourne

21

1-2

3-4

0-2

0

2

5

Valentine

37

6-8

0-2

4-12

1

1

12

Henry

8

0-2

1-2

1-1

0

1

1

Middleton

35

3-10

4-5

1-3

8

2

11

Jones

35

3-10

0-0

0-2

0

1

8

Gamble

20

1-5

1-1

1-7

0

3

3

Smith

5

0-1

0-0

0-0

2

1

0

Morgan

22

5-11

2-2

2-3

0

3

12

Diop

1

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Jerome

17

1-1

2-4

1-1

1

3

4

Totals

201

20-50

13-20

12-34

12

17

56

Percentages: FG .400, FT .650. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Jones 2-5, Middleton 1-5, Gamble 0-1, Henry 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Valentine 3, Gamble, Morgan). Turnovers: 15 (Jones 4, Valentine 4, Middleton 3, Henry, Morgan, Gamble). Steals: 10 (Valentine 3, Middleton 3, Gamble 2, Bourne, Jones). Technical Fouls: None.

Gardner-Webb

25

29

-

54

Winthrop

31

25

-

56

Att.-1,295. Officials-Mike Nance, Matt Dipiro, Matthew Oblas.

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