Winthrop took the lead just over 2 minutes into Monday night’s contest with Charleston Southern and never checked the rear view mirror en route to a 77-55 win over the Bucs.
The Eagles (12-10, 7-4 Big South), winners in four of the last five Big South games and now 13 straight over the Bucs (13-9, 7-4) at Winthrop Coliseum, got game-winning offensive contributions from Keon Moore and Andre Smith. Moore led the Eagles with 19, while Smith added 18; the pair combined for eight 3s. Derrick Henry and Tevin Prescott also scored in double digits with 13 and 11, rounding out a balanced Eagle offensive effort. But Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey wanted to talk about his team’s defense.
“For me, the thing I’m most proud of our guys is they guarded at an elite level against a very, very potent offensive team,” he said.
Large portions of Winthrop’s offense spawned from its defense. The Eagles churned out 24 points off Charleston Southern’s 16 turnovers, and Smith and Moore each got three of the team’s season-high-tying 13 steals. It was an impressive effort considering Winthrop had just one day of preparation after Saturday’s loss to Radford.
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“I think knowing what they do, watching film and knowing kind of their sets,” said Smith, “just listening and watching film really helped us.”
Shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, Barclay Radebaugh’s crew hit every part of the two rims but only found the net four times in 28 attempts. It was a brutal night for a team that is the 13th most reliant on 3-point baskets in NCAA men’s basketball.
“When the 3s not going and you call a timeout and you continue to take 3s, that’s not real smart. There’s other ways to attack a basketball game,” said Radebaugh, visibly perturbed in his postgame press conference.
Concern about Winthrop’s freshness was legitimate; Monday night’s contest was the team’s third in five days, and it plays again at home against Liberty on Wednesday. But the concern didn’t bear out against Charleston Southern and what turned into a blowout late afforded Winthrop the chance to rest some starters and get walk-ons Kellen Blake, Mitch Hill, Freddy Poole and Hunter Sadlon into the action.
“It’s always great to see those guys get in the game and get to play,” said Henry. “Their preparation and what they do being on the scout team and preparing us for every game, it’s just a blessing to always have them support us.”
Charleston Southern only made one of its 15 3-point attempts in the first half. Winthrop was able to limit Charleston Southern standout guard Saah Nimley to 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, and zero assists with six turnovers. It was Nimley’s first game of the season without an assist. Slowing down the Bucs’ tiny dynamo played a big part in the win, and it started in the first half.
“They generate a lot of their 3s from driving the basketball on you,” said Kelsey. “If you don’t guard the basketball properly, they’re gonna spray to a guy that can make shots.”
The Bucs also turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, leading to 17 Winthrop points, and it wasn’t surprising the Eagles led 42-26 at the break. Moore and Smith combined for 25 points in the first half, while Smith led Winthrop’s defensive effort with three of the team’s eight first half steals. The senior guard had a productive first half, his steal and layup giving Winthrop a 28-18 lead before he crossed up a defender and drained a 3-pointer for a 33-22 advantage.
Back-to-back steals by Smith and Prescott led to buckets as Winthrop closed the half with a flurry. Smith’s steal and score prompted a Charleston Southern timeout, but that didn’t stop the Florida native from draining one more 3 before the break, to the exasperation of a suddenly jacket-less Radebaugh. Winthrop closed the half on a 14-4 run, and never let up in the second 20 minutes either.
“We were thoroughly out-played from the opening tap to the very last possession,” said Radebaugh. “They played with great hunger, energy and passion and we did not.”
Henry scored nine straight points in one second half juncture, hitting three free throws, then forcing a bucket up and in while drawing a foul before repeating the feat in transition thanks to a nice dish from Keon Johnson. Henry’s final basket in that spurt put the Eagles up 21, before Will Saunders hit a 3, Charleston Southern’s second of the game with about 13 minutes left to play. Charleston Southern’s bench could only roll its eyes, while Winthrop plowed on, the end of an arduous, NBA-like stretch of games in sight.