Eagles can clinch share of regular-season title tonight

One reason Winthrop coach Randy Peele wanted to play Davidson in that BracketBuster game was to give his team time to recover, win or lose, from an intense non-conference game that happened to fall in the middle of a heated Big South Conference race.

"I didn't want it to create a hiccup with our next league game," Peele said after the Eagles were shut down offensively in a 60-47 loss.

After it was over, the Eagles appeared ready to move on.

"The team's already started to do that," said point guard Chris Gaynor, whose 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting was the offensive bright spot. "There was the big build-up for the game on ESPN, but it was one game that really doesn't matter.

"The conference is what makes our season."

Starting at 7 tonight with Charleston Southern in the Winthrop Coliseum.

The Eagles (18-10, 9-3 Big South) lead UNC Asheville (19-8, 8-4) by a game with two games to play and can clinch at least a tie for the regular-season title and their ninth consecutive season of at least 10 wins in the conference with a win tonight.

Winthrop hosts UNC Asheville on Saturday in the final game of the regular season, a game that will likely determine the championship and which team will be the No. 1 seed and have the chance to host every game it plays in the conference tournament, starting a week from today.

"We win (tonight) and that guarantees a regular-season championship," Peele said, "but it's going to be a matter of will it be a co-championship or by ourselves? We've got to make sure we don't slip up."

UNCA hosts Coastal Carolina on Wednesday. A Winthrop win tonight and an Asheville loss would give the Eagles the regular-season title. Winthrop can finish no worse than second and is assured of hosting a first-round tournament game on March 4.

UNCA, if it loses its final two games, could finish tied for second, because the rest of the league is a mess. Five teams are within a game of each other, with slots three through seven undetermined. Liberty, Coastal and High Point are all 6-6 and could still have a mathematical chance to finish 8-6 and catch Asheville.

Radford has made a late-season run and is tied with VMI at 5-7.

A Charleston Southern loss tonight would assure the Bucs (9-18, 3-9) of an eighth-place finish for the second straight year and a road game at the No. 1 seed in the opening round of the tournament.

Coach Barclay Radebaugh's Bucs are 1-28 on the road the past two seasons and haven't won a league road game since stunning Birmingham-Southern in the first round of the 2006 league tournament. But they've won two of their last three games, beating High Point and Liberty.

Winthrop beat the Bucs 81-64 in the first meeting and has won 13 straight in the series. Michael Jenkins had 20 points, Charles Corbin 13 and Gaynor 12 and the Eagles shot better than 50 percent in the first game.

As with that one, the Eagles, Peele said, have to control tempo and pound the ball inside against what could be at times a four-guard lineup.

"Like VMI, it's going to be a tempo game," Peele said. "They take quick shots and want to speed the tempo. We've got to score in transition and go inside."

Davidson held the Eagles to 30 percent shooting, their second-lowest percentage of the season, and exposed Winthrop's inability to beat teams off the dribble. And the Wildcats defended Winthrop's multiple halfcourt sets as well as anyone.

"We scored 47 points, and I told our guys not to say that we just missed shots," Peele said. "That's a cop-out.

"We don't run in transition. When we rebound, we've got to run the floor. That's been a struggle for us, and I don't know why."

It could be a struggle tonight, if Gaynor doesn't play.

Gaynor was ill prior to the Davidson game, didn't practice Sunday and was scheduled for a late afternoon doctor's visit on Monday.

• Winthrop gameday, BSC standings • 2C