Eagles look to muzzle 'assassin' Curry

Winthrop guard Raymond Davis, South Carolina forward Dominique Archie and Winthrop forward Cameron Stanley battle for a rebound last week in Columbia.
Winthrop guard Raymond Davis, South Carolina forward Dominique Archie and Winthrop forward Cameron Stanley battle for a rebound last week in Columbia.

If you're a Winthrop basketball fan and you keep waiting for the schedule to get a little easier, your wait won't end tonight.

The Eagles played at South Carolina last Sunday, at Akron on Tuesday and go to sold-out Belk Arena to play No. 21-ranked Davidson at 7 p.m. today.

If you're wondering, game four of the road swing comes next Tuesday at N.C. State.

"We're playing four teams that would win the Big South Conference," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. "The schedule is biting us a little bit right now."

Winthrop (1-2) has lost two straight. The program hasn't had a three-game losing streak since January of 2004. They did it twice in that season and finished 16-12. That was the last year the Eagles didn't win the Big South.

Tonight the Eagles face the nation's hottest player, 6-3 junior guard Stephen Curry who scores points like most people take a breath.

"I don't think in my career I've ever had to defend a player who has as impact on his team as he does," Peele said.

Curry is leading the nation in scoring (35.3). The last player to lead the nation with more than 30 points a game was Long Island University's Charles Jones (30.1) in 1997. The last player to average more than 35 a game was U.S. International's Kevin Bradshaw (37.6) in 1991.

Curry had 44 points in 33 minutes in Tuesday's 72-68 loss at Oklahoma. He took 29 of the team's 68 shots, 15 of their 29 3-pointers and was 14-for-14 at the free throw line.

Curry ranks third nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (.433) and averages 7.3 assists.

Counting points and assists, Curry has been responsible for 52 percent of Davidson's offense. His points alone account for 37 percent of an offense that averages 94.7 per game.

So much for the notion he wouldn't be as effective moving from shooting guard to point guard.

"Before the year, I thought it would," Peele said, "but it puts the ball in his hands so much more. The natural reaction was to say he wouldn't be as effective because he's got to initiate the offense.

"But he's got the green light to shoot anywhere he wants at any time. You're trying to defend a player who might take 30 shots. That is a talent, an indication of his ability."

Peele loves the way Curry gets off his shots so quickly, his ability to read a defense and his "high basketball IQ."

"He looks like a choir boy," Peele said, "but he's an assassin."

Normally, Peele sets a defensive number for his team before each game. At Akron, the goal was to hold the Zips to 55. Tonight he may have to put a number on Curry.

If there's any comfort for Peele, it's knowing that last year the 12 points Curry had against Winthrop, in a 60-47 win, were his season low. The defense of Mantoris Robinson and a couple of early fouls kept Curry under control.

Curry's switch to point guard also brings up some matchup issues for Peele's defense. He wants to keep the 6-5 Robinson on Curry, but if he does, that puts 5-10 point guard Justin Burton on 6-4 Bryant Barr or 6-6 Max Paulhus-Gosselin.

"But," Peele said, "I may pull something out of my hat."

The offense also needs a little juice, too. The Eagles have had trouble scoring from their intricate offensive sets. Defenses are taking those away, and the Eagles have not been able to create shots when the offense breaks down.

Burton has been the team's most consistent offensive weapon. Cameron Stanley did come through with a 17-point game at Akron, but Robinson has just three field goals total and is shooting 25 percent. Peele said he wants Robinson to be more aggresive on the offensive end.

Center Charles Corbin has missed 12 of his last 17 shots.

While Curry is a major concern, his team's mental state is paramount for Peele. Despite the youth and inexperience on the team, expectations remain high. Peele admitted there's some pressure associated with those expectations.

He said the team has bounced back since the 72-58 loss at Akron. The disappointment of the loss translated into two good, hard days of practice.

"We got after it pretty good," Peele said. "We just need to remember we've got to continue to get better every day. I think we will."

The past four seasons, the Eagles have been either 3-1 or 4-0 after four games. They could be 1-3 after tonight, with that road trip to N.C. State staring them in the face before they get another home game.

"We've not been 1-2 since I've been here," Peele said, "and I'm personally struggling with that. And the players are too, but from the standpoint of they don't think they're doing enough to help the team.

"We've got to stay positive. We can't get frustrated. I still believe this team has the potential to improve faster than any team in our league. I believe this team can be good."