Eagles know defense key to the season

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- There are differences between this year's Winthrop team and those from the previous nine seasons under former coach Gregg Marshall.

It's the similarities, however, which will ultimately determine whether this team under coach Randy Peele compares with some of the most successful under Marshall, who moved on to Wichita State.

"This program is built on defense, hard work and toughness," said senior point guard Chris Gaynor. "That shouldn't change. It's our job as seniors to make sure the new players understand that."

So far, the results have been encouraging.

The Eagles (2-0) struggled in their season-opening win against Queens, but appeared in much better shape defensively in handing Illinois-Chicago its first loss of the season on Friday in the first round of the Paradise Jam at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.

Gaynor is one of four seniors with a wealth of experience, and knowledge of Winthrop's past success to share. There's a big audience, too -- six freshmen and a junior college transfer joined the team this year.

Two of the freshmen -- point guard Justin Burton and center Charles Corbin -- came up with solid performances for the Eagles on Friday.

"Charles Corbin played a heck of a game. He stepped up and accepted the challenge," Gaynor said. "I'm also extremely proud of Justin Burton. He came in and gave us a good lift. If we got those kinds of performances from those guys every game, we'd be fine."

Gaynor and fellow senior guard Michael Jenkins did a good job of penetrating, then kicking the ball out to the open man against Illinois-Chicago. Peele would like to see the ball passed more into the post, allowing Corbin or sophomore Mantoris Robinson a chance to score or kick the ball back out.

"We're still trying to find the right mixture," Peele said.

Winthrop faces its biggest test yet when the Eagles play Georgia Tech (2-1) at 6 p.m. today. Baylor (2-0) or Notre Dame (2-0) also lay ahead, depending on Winthrop's outcome with the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech (2-1) features Anthony Morrow, a 6-foot-5 guard who has scored 19 or more points in his first three games.

Tech's inside game has flourished in its past two wins after struggling in a season-opening loss to UNC Greensboro.

Peele said his team's ability to battle the Yellow Jackets in the paint will likely determine the outcome.

"Georgia Tech is really big and we're going to have to rebound the basketball. We have to control the glass," he said. "If we can control the glass and take care of the basketball, then who knows?"

• Time: 6 p.m.

• TV: FSN (cable channel 29 in Rock Hill)