Sports

Peele now knows what team needs to work on

With about 15 minutes to go before tipoff of his first game as Winthrop's coach, Randy Peele was itching to get on the floor.

Before the past Saturday night, he would have been out with the players, throwing passes, getting guys ready to play, getting himself geared up.

But that was before Gregg Marshall left town and he became the head coach. On Saturday, Peele was alone in the locker room, jotting notes on the board and doing some pacing -- maybe a lot of pacing.

"It's killing me not being out there," he said.

The night before, he'd gone late into the night watching film. He was up at 7:30 Saturday morning planning the morning shoot-around. To cut the nervous energy, he said he "slept, ran, did push-ups and ran again."

After almost 30 practices and two scrimmages, he wasn't sure what he was going to see when his Eagles took the floor against Queens, but he had an idea. With seven new faces, he wasn't expecting a work of art.

The Eagles won 68-61, despite committing 27 personal fouls, playing some gosh-awful on-the-ball defense, giving up 19 offensive rebounds to a team with no player taller than 6-foot-8 and not exactly lighting it up on the offensive end.

But Monday, after a couple of days to assess what happened, the warts of that first game weren't quite as ugly, at least in one regard.

"The beauty of the game," Peele said, "is that we learned a lot about our team. It was a good win. It was what we needed.

"There was adversity (foul trouble), and we had to adjust and find a way to win. I'm proud of that."

The thing to keep in mind: This team is a work in progress and will be at least through December.

"I could see this coming," Peele said of the first-game performance.

Peele was less than happy with his defense. Yeah, the Eagles held the Royals to 34 percent shooting, but they also put them on the line 32 times. Only Wisconsin (34) shot more free throws on the Eagles the past two seasons, and Queens ain't bad, but the Royals ain't Wisconsin.

Chris Gaynor had 17 big points, but Peele knows he's got to get better guarding the ball. So do Michael Jenkins and Byron Faison, anyone playing on the perimeter. They've got to stop dribble penetration better or it's going to be a long year.

The halfcourt offense didn't exactly click, but the Royals had something to do with that by laying a body on anyone who thought about setting a screen. But, looking on the bright side, the Eagles went to the line 39 times, the most by a Winthrop team in at least the past two seasons, and they made every one that mattered in the last nine minutes when they had just one field goal.

Peele liked what he saw from freshmen Charles Corbin and George Valentine and junior college transfer Andy Buechert in the middle, even though all of them had foul trouble.

Corbin brought some energy and Valentine was physical, blocking three shots in 28 minutes. Buechert was called in for a heart-to-heart discussion with Peele on Friday and got to run the stadium steps for a while. Saturday, he got six rebounds, kept several others alive and generally played better in the game than he had in any of the practices.

Faison, as expected, looked to score, and showed, at least for now, he is the only Eagle who can score off the dribble.

Peele even liked freshman point guard Justin Burton, who played just four minutes.

And don't be disturbed by Winthrop's 3-point shooting. They took just 11, making four. Keep in mind this isn't the team of the past three seasons, featuring five starters who could step out and shoot from behind the arc. This is going to be a team that looks inside on the first option, maybe the second and third.

The Eagles, who play Illinois-Chicago in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Friday, took Sunday off. They were back at it Monday, and Peele had plenty of items to go over in practice.

Illinois-Chicago, Peele said, wants to drive the ball, get it up on the glass and go get it if it misses.

"That's all the things we need to get better at," Peele said, "and that's what we've got to do. We learned a lot."

With one game down, Peele, the anxiety of that first game gone, probably is right where the thought he'd be, too.

"I'm excited," he said, "because I know the answers and my staff does, too."

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