NORFOLK, Va. -- Winthrop's losing streak reached eight games Saturday night, when Old Dominion pulled away late to beat the Eagles 66-54, but Winthrop coach Randy Peele didn't have quite the hang dog look he had in the previous seven.
He saw some fire from his team, saw some defense, saw some excellent play from freshmen guards Reggie Middleton and Andre Jones, maybe saw some hope for the rest of the season.
He just didn't see the numbers he wanted on the scoreboard.
"I was really proud of our kids," Peele said. "This was a five-point game against a team that I told our kids could win our league. The potential I see is great."
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Peele started three freshmen for the first time -- Jones, Middleton and 6-7 Chris Malcolm. Jones finished with 13 points, four rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. Middleton added eight points, five assists and three rebounds in 30 minutes. And it was those two who kept the Eagles within smelling distance of a win in the second half.
But as Peele has said so often, there will be a fine line between winning and losing for this team and it showed up in the second half Saturday night. After they held ODU to 23 percent shooting and five field goals in the first half, the defensive intensity wasn't quite as high in the second. And at a couple of critical junctures when taking care of the ball was important, they didn't get it done.
The Monarchs (6-3) shot 56 percent in the second half, with 6-10 Gerald Lee getting 13 of his game-high 20. And Keyon Carter, a 6-7 forward Peele recruited for Winthrop, made a couple of huge 3-pointers.
"We've got to win with defense," Peele said, "and we've got to be able to defend with hair-on-fire mentality for 40 minutes. In the second half, we couldn't get it under control, couldn't generate enough stops."
They had 17 turnovers and shot 38 percent, numbers that have to be better to help the defense.
Still, it was there for the taking.
It was a 45-43 game with 6:25 to play and the Eagles had the momentum, three times erasing five-point ODU leads, but it started slipping away when Mantoris Robinson's bullet of a post pass bounced off Charles Corbin's hands.
The Eagles got the ball back on a steal by George Valentine, who got it to Reggie Middleton in full stride. But Middleton's left-handed layup was blocked by Jonathan Adams, who didn't have a field goal in 30 minutes but may have changed the game with that block. The block wouldn't have mattered if Byron Faison, who was hustling to trail the play, had converted a point-blank follow.
At the other end, Carter hit a 3-pointer and the lead was 48-43.
"That was the biggest play," Peele said.
Middleton and Jones, who played with the aggression of upperclassmen, not freshmen, kept the Eagles close. Middleton scored six straight points and Jones' 3-pointer with 3:30 to go cut the lead to 52-50. They scored 17 of the Eagles' first 28 points of the second half.
But after Corbin, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, cut the lead to 54-52, Carter hit another 3-pointer to push the lead back to five.
"Biggest recruiting mistake of my life," Peele said to Carter as the two passed in the media room afterward. "I knew about Keyon Carter before ODU did."
Down the stretch, the Monarchs, who were 24-of-29 from the line for the night, hit seven of eight free throws to make the margin wider than it should have been.
Winthrop got to the line just 14 times, making nine.
Once again, the Eagles couldn't match the opponent in the lane.
"Charles Corbin played well," Peele said. "Right now, he's our best inside presence."
Malcolm never got anything going, picking up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game and playing just eight minutes.
The Eagles led 22-21 at the half, their first halftime lead since the East Carolina game. But the Monarchs came out aggressively to start the second half, with Lee scoring the first two baskets by following his own shot.
The Eagles were whistled for seven fouls in the first five minutes, calls that seemed to take away some of their aggressiveness, particularly inside.
"We thought they'd be aggressive early and they came out that way," Peele said.
ODU coach Blaine Taylor said his team simply did things smarter in the second half.
"In the first half," he said, "we were trying to run through a brick wall. In the second half, we took advantage of the openings we had."
He said the fact his team had just three turnovers in the final 20 minutes was proof.
Now, all Peele has to do is get his team ready to play 9-1 College of Charleston on Monday night, but at least that one's at home, just Winthrop's third home game of the season.
"We've been playing on everybody else's court and they are really good," Peele said. "Up until tonight, I felt we'd only played one game where we played our style.
"But we're getting better."