Winthrop coach Randy Peele loves the month of February because it usually shows teams are getting better, putting themselves in a position for postseason play.
But February is turning into a cruel month for the Eagles, who have now played the top two teams in the Big South Conference down to wire but haven't been able to finish the deal.
Monday night it was a 59-55 loss to Radford, and Wednesday night came the cruelest blow yet, a 110-106 overtime loss to VMI.
The Keydets, after a 97-97 deadlock in regulation, outscored the Eagles 13-9 in the extra period. After Winthrop went ahead 106-105 on a Marc-David Vil 3-pointer with 1:50 left, they held the Eagles scoreless.
Travis Holmes scored four of the Keydets' final five points to finish with 21. Twin brother Chavis had 26.
Down 108-106 with 17.9 seconds left, the Eagles failed to get the ball in bounds twice under their own basket and the Keydets got away with a win.
It was the most points a Winthrop team has ever allowed at home in Big South play, and it was VMI's first season sweep of the Eagles and first win in the Winthrop Coliseum since joining the league.
"I told our guys it would be a long bus ride back home," VMI coach Duggar Baucom said, "because that's all we've ever experienced. But I also told them before the game if we didn't get it done in 40 minutes, we'd play five more."
Winthrop had its chances after coming back from 15 down in the second half.
"This is a terrible loss," Peele said. "I'm not into moral victories. We've had two first-place teams in here and taken them both to the wire and couldn't finish off the game. I'm proud of the kids, but I'm not happy."
The Eagles (6-16, 5-7) did just about everything right against the high-scoring Keydets (18-4, 9-2). They shot 61 percent for the game, won the boards 48-30, scored 66 points in the paint and held the Keydets to 10-of-30 on 3-pointers.
"I'll take that (10 threes) against them any time," Peele said. "To beat them, you have to limit their 3s."
The things the Eagles didn't do were killers. They turned it over 26 times, leading to 31 VMI points, and the Keydets got to the line 35 times, making 26. VMI also shot 60 percent in the second half by giving up on the 3-point shot and beating the Eagles with drives.
Some of those drives were made easier because Winthrop's best defender, Mantoris Robinson, sat out with an ankle injury.
"We prefer to shoot the 3," Baucom said, "because my math says three is better than two. But we're also a team that can drive it. And I like to play against bigger teams because we can use our quickness."
The Eagles led 47-40 at the half, doing what they needed to do -- shoot a lot of layups, be patient, control the boards and not throw the ball away. They hit 21 of 30 shots, 70 percent, took only four 3-pointers and won the boards 21-12. Of their 21 field goals, 16 were layups or dunks.
"It looked like we were playing Kentucky again, there were so many dunks," Baucom said. "They were really attacking our press. The first time we played, they'd break the press and pull it out."
The Eagles were up 45-33 with 3:30 left and had a chance to open up a real cushion, but turned the ball over on four straight possessions, allowing the Keydets, who shot 6-of-19 from behind the arc, to get closer than they probably should have been.
All the Keydets needed was a little room. Chavis Holmes scored the Keydets' first eight points of the half, sparking a 24-8 run that put VMI ahead 64-55. Instead of relying on the 3-point shot, they relied on the quickness of Travis Holmes and Willie Bell against Winthrop's big men. They put their heads down and took it to the hoop, exploiting the Eagles' inability to guard the ball.
And when Michael Sparks, who had a surprising 23 points, knocked down a 3-pointer with 9:40 left, the Keydets were up 76-61.
They still led 88-78 with four minutes to go, and the Eagles appeared to finally be on the ropes, when point guard Reggie Middleton went down with a leg injury and had to be helped off the floor with 5:09 to play.
The Eagles were down five with 19.1 seconds left, but Justin Burton hit a 3-pointer and a couple of free throws and the Holmes twins each missed a free throw in the final 10 seconds.
The Eagles almost had an unlikely hero in Vil, who came on to shut down Travis Holmes in the final four minutes, and when Chavis Holmes missed a free throw with 4.1 seconds left, Vil got the ball on the right wing and let fly with a jumper that was halfway to the hoop when the horn sounded.
When the shot went down, the Eagles thought it was a game-winning 3-pointer and Vil was mobbed by celebrating teammates at midcourt. But the officials checked the replay monitor and Vil's foot was over the line two, maybe three, inches.
"I thought it was a 3," Peele said, "but I didn't really see it. But for someone hasn't played, he did an unbelievable job."
Vil had played a total of seven minutes all year, but produced a couple of stops on Travis Holmes and seven points in seven minutes.
Andre Jones led the Eagles with 24 points, Cameron Stanley added 21 and Burton 15.
But those were only good enough to get the Eagles close again.
"The biggest thing we did," Peele said, "was we stopped attacking the press. And I think we got tired. They make you play fast.
"And they make other people besides your best ballhandlers handle the ball. The way they play kind of plays into our weakness."
Beyond the loss, Peele now has to worry about Robinson and Middleton with a road trip to Liberty coming up on Saturday.
Middleton, he said, could have a severe sprain or a fractured right tibia. Middleton and Robinson will have X-rays today.