On a night when the new faces made a collective impact for the first time this season, perhaps it was fitting that 6-7 freshman Charles Corbin should finish the scoring in a 65-43 win over Coastal Carolina by making the first 3-pointer of his career.
Corbin locked and loaded like he'd made a thousand of them, and the shot from the right wing sent the crowd of 5,865, the fourth largest in coliseum history, into a game-ending frenzy.
"There were six seconds on the shot clock," Corbin said, the smile spreading across his face. "I had to put it up. That's what I did."
But Corbin should not expect any special sets from coach Randy Peele. His job remains rebound, defend and score inside. If he does it the way he did it on Saturday night, Peele will be a happy man.
The Eagles' fourth straight win pushed them to 13-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big South Conference, a game back of UNC Asheville, which beat Charleston Southern on the road on Saturday. Coastal, held to its lowest point total of the season, fell to 2-2, 9-9.
Corbin finished with a career-high 15 points, hitting 6-of-9 shots, and seven rebounds, including five offensive. He responded to some tough coaching from Peele the past couple of days and played with confidence around the glass.
"I rode him hard this week," Peele said. "Coastal has a very good freshman in Anthony Breeze, and I kept telling Charles I hoped Breeze wouldn't hurt him. I think I got his attention.
"When Charles walked off the court tonight, he told me has a pretty good freshman, too."
But fellow freshmen Byron Faison, George Valentine and Justin Burton also came up big. Faison scored 10 points, hitting two key buckets in the first half. Valentine had four points and five rebounds in 23 minutes, and Burton had two points, two assists and just one turnover in nine minutes.
"We've had some good efforts from them this year," Peele said, "but that was the most productive."
And they helped produce another splendid defensive effort. In addition to hold the Chants to a season low in points, the Eagles forced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points and held Coastal to 36 percent shooting. Jack Leasure finished with 18 points on a respectable 6-for-13 shooting night, but the rest of the team was 10-for-31.
"Defense is their game," first-year Coastal coach Cliff Ellis said. "They take away what you do. Jack had an uncharacteristic six turnovers. He had to earn everything he got."
Ellis had to play without 6-3 guard Everage Richardson, who was averaging almost 14 points a game. Richardson had an emergency appendectomy on Friday and could be out for the season.
And Ellis missed most of the week's practice, attending the funeral of his mother-in-law.
That came on the heels of losing starting forward Joseph Harris for the season with a thumb injury in December and point guard Joshua Mack leaving the team in the first month.
"They're a team in a little bit of disarray," Peele said, "and losing Richardson was a big blow."
Ellis had been playing "small ball" with a lineup featuring no one taller than 6-5. But with Richardson out, he had to go back to a bigger lineup and had just one day to try and tweak it.
"We used a lineup we hadn't used since before Christmas," Ellis said, "but that doesn't take away what Winthrop did. They did what they had to do."
The change allowed Winthrop to use 6-5 Mantoris Robinson on Leasure most of the night, although Michael Jenkins and Faison had good stretches against him as well.
Richardson's absence also took away one of Coastal's main scoring threats off the dribble.
The Eagles took control in the final 11:26 of the first half, outscoring Coastal 23-8. Jenkins, who also had 15 points, had eight in the run, but the Eagles also got five from Faison off the bench and a couple of strong post moves from Corbin.
Meanwhile, the Winthrop defense turned it up, too. After taking a 12-10 lead on Leasure's 3-pointer with 11:52 to play, the Chants had 20 more possessions in the half. They turned it over eight times against the Eagles' man-to-man and made just two of their last nine shots. Winthrop was up by 18 before the Chants got five points in the final minute.
The Chants made one little 11-2 run in the second half to cut the lead to 43-34 with 12:11 left, but the Eagles answered with nine straight points, five by Faison, to stretch the margin back to 52-34. The defense forced six Coastal turnovers in seven possessions during the run.
"Our defense was very good," said Peele, whose Eagles held their fourth straight opponent to fewer than 60 points. They've held four of the past five opponents under 50.
"In the first half we were extremely aggressive," Peele said, "and the crowd had a lot to do with that. And in the second half, Leasure didn't get as many good looks.
"Make no mistake. We know who we are. We want to be the best defensive team in the league. Tonight we were good, not great, but I think the players are starting to realize we have the ability to lock people up."