Winthrop burns Pirates' sails, 72-57

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Winthrop coach Randy Peele had every reason to worry about Wednesday's game against East Carolina, a team loaded with athletes and quickness.

He knew the Pirates were capable of shooting themselves into a win or shooting Winthrop to its fourth win. The Pirates, throwing in some less than stellar ball-handling, chose the latter path, and the Eagles eased their way to a 72-57 win.

The Eagles got 20 points from Michael Jenkins -- who grew up in Kinston, about 20 miles from Minges Coliseum -- 18 points and eight rebounds from Taj McCullough and a first-half lift from 6-foot-9 Andy Buechert to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2004.

"This was a really big win," said Peele, who had lost sleep over this one since the Eagles blew that 22-point lead to Missouri State on Sunday.

"I've been on edge," Peele said, "but I'm the kind of guy who would make coffee nervous."

Maybe the only person in the coliseum more on edge Wednesday was ECU interim coach Mack McCarthy, who knows he's got to spend a year watching the Pirates run and gun.

The Pirates fire up shots like each one could be their last and at times couldn't handle the ball with any less grace if they were wearing oven mitts.

The Pirates, with the Eagles pouring on the defensive pressure, shot 37 percent from the field and missed 12-of-19 3-pointers. They also turned it over 19 times in a variety of ways, including eight by point guard Darrell Jenkins who played like he had two gears -- fast and faster.

In the understatement of the post game, the Pirates' Sam Hinnant said, "The turnovers really hurt."

Hinnant said the Pirates' game plan is always to run and run some more, but what they failed to do was run with purpose.

For a good part of the first half, Winthrop fell into the trap and played along, taking bad shots and generally forgetting to run the offense.

"I felt like we were kind of dead to start the game," Jenkins said. "We didn't have a lot of energy. We went into the huddle and said 'We've got to pick it up.' We picked it up and played Winthrop basketball."

The light came on when Jenkins tied the game at 19 with a 3-pointer that came somewhere from the vicinity of downtown Greenville.

In the next four minutes, the Eagles outscored the Pirates 16-1, with Buechert, the junior college transfer, getting things going with a couple of jump hooks. Those came, Peele said, after Buechert had blown the first two or three sets he ran.

"Those were huge baskets," Peele said.

McCullough and Mantoris Robinson scored on follow shots, McCullough went coast to coast with a steal, and Chris Gaynor buried a 3-pointer for a 35-20 lead.

The Eagles forced four turnovers in the run, and Buechert blocked a shot. The defense keyed the offense, just the way Peele likes it.

"That 10-minute segment at the end of the half," Peele said, "was the best stretch we had. The defense was really good. Then I told Taj he was playing like he was afraid and really picked it up."

Unlike Sunday, when the Eagles frittered away a 22-point lead in a loss to Missouri State, they turned on the heat to start the second half, scoring the first eight points. McCullough had five straight in the run that pushed the lead to 22. The Eagles were in no danger of losing a double-digit margin the rest of the night.

The Eagles shot 48 percent, with Jenkins hitting 8-of-14 shots and half of his six 3-pointers. Jenkins also added six rebounds and four assists and teamed with Gaynor (seven assists, five steals) to totally disrupt anything the Pirates tried to run.

Jenkins, who didn't get so much as a look from the Pirates coming out of Kinston High School, will finish his college career 4-0 against ECU. He played Wednesday in front of his mom and a bunch of friends.

"Hey, 4-0, you can't beat that," Jenkins said. "I still want to go 20 minutes down the road and sleep in my bed."