Sometimes basketball just comes down to its simplest form. Someone gets the ball in his hands and makes a play.
In the last four minutes at the Winthrop Coliseum on Saturday night, East Carolina had a couple who did and Winthrop didn't, and the Pirates slipped away with a 63-60 victory.
The loss was the fifth straight for the Eagles (1-5), the first five-game losing skid since the 1999-2000 season. East Carolina, playing its first road game of the year, moved to 5-1. The win snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles.
Sam Hinnant hit two huge shots, Brock Young made his only shot of the night when it mattered, and the Eagles couldn't get off a tying 3-pointer in the final 25 seconds.
Hinnant, the 6-4 senior from Charlotte, seemed more than a little jacked up to play the Eagles and go against his former Fork Union teammate Mantoris Robinson. Hinnant hit 7-of-16 shots, including 5-of-11 3-pointers and equaled his season average of 19 points.
It wasn't a dominating performance, but the two shots he hit after the Eagles went up 57-56 with 3:53 left were, well, big.
He came down and made a 3-pointer from somewhere near the parking lot with Robinson leaping in his face to put the Pirates up 59-57. After Chris Malcolm hit two free throws to give Winthrop a 60-59 lead with 1:29 left, Hinnant drove baseline, pulled up and made a 12-footer over Robinson.
Neither could be described as good shot selection given the situation.
"He takes some shots that seem off balance, but he has an awful lot of confidence and we have a lot of confidence in him," ECU coach Mack McCarthy said. "We'll keep counting on him until he proves me wrong."
"Mantoris really guarded," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. "He just made some tough shots."
After Hinnant's shot, Peele called time with 58.8 seconds left and set up a play for Malcolm along the baseline, the same play had led to the free throws seconds earlier. Malcolm got the pass and turned into his shot, but right into the contact of 6-10 Chad Wynn and 6-8 Darrius Morrow.
The shot wouldn't go.
"That was a huge play," Peele said. "We had just run the play. It was a good idea. That was a really, really big play."
After an East Carolina timeout, Young gave the Pirates a cushion by coming off a screen at the top of the key and driving almost uncontested for a layup with 27 seconds to go.
McCarthy said it was a play they drew up during the timeout, one that Winthrop likely hadn't seen.
"We didn't know how they'd defend Young, whether they'd try and deny him the ball," McCarthy said. "We figured we'd either get Morrow on a roll or a dribble drive. Sometimes they work."
Peele took his final timeout with 12.3 seconds left, hoping to get a tying 3-pointer, but when freshman Andre Jones, the first option on the play, couldn't get open, Cameron Stanley was left with the ball at the top of the key. He couldn't get off a 3-pointer and drove to the basket hoping for a score and foul. He got neither.
"He was the second option," Peele said. "He just tried to drive it and get fouled."
Other than the final score, it was a decent night for the Eagles. They held the Pirates 20 points under their average, held their own on the boards and held ECU to 35 percent shooting.
"It was the tempo we wanted," Peele said.
But the Eagles continued to struggle on offense with ball movement and passing. They had 21 buckets, but just eight assists, evidence the offense isn't running like a well-oiled machine.
The bright spots were Robinson, who in addition to guarding Hinnant, put of 14 points and five rebounds, numbers Peele said he'd take "every night out."
And Malcolm, getting his first start, had 10 points, three rebounds and three blocks. He was easily Winthrop's best presence on the low block.
Jones added nine points and four rebounds, and Charles Corbin grabbed eight rebounds.
All of the Eagles came out with more fire and intensity and led by as many as 11 points in the first half before a late 11-2 run by ECU cut the margin to 32-31 at the half.
It was a grinder of a game, just what Peele wanted. His team just couldn't grind it enough.
"I'm disappointed," Peele said, "but in the last two weeks we've shown great improvement. (ECU) has more returning players than we do and haven't played the kind of schedule we have. They're 5-1 and we're 1-5 but we're right there with that ball club.
"Our young kids are getting better. In the last two minutes, they made plays and we didn't. Our margin for error is so thin."