One of the least effective benches in Big South Conference men’s basketball got shorter Tuesday night.
Winthrop junior guard Nych Smith is academically ineligible for the second semester of the 2017-18 season, a huge blow to an Eagles team that is lacking quality depth.
“It’s disappointing,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said after his team’s loss to Liberty. “He’s an important cog in our team, an energizer bunny off the bench and paint-toucher and explosive scorer. But in sports things like that happen. It’s cliché but you have to have a next man up mentality.”
Smith, a 5-foot-10 guard who previously played at Fordham and Florida Southwestern State College, was averaging nearly 19 minutes per game. The junior had hit double figure scoring six times, scoring a high of 14 against Colorado State and averaging 7.1 points. He only played nine minutes against Radford and just four last Saturday against Campbell, before his ineligibility was announced prior to Tuesday night’s home game.
Winthrop is last in the Big South Conference in bench scoring (through four games):
Kelsey explained after Winthrop beat High Point Dec. 30 that Adam Pickett had started in part because Smith had missed his flight to Rock Hill. Smith had his head phones in his ears and didn’t hear that his flight’s gate changed.
Pickett has taken full advantage of his chance, averaging 15 points in the last four games. He had only started one game before the High Point contest, but has started all three since. He’s also averaging nearly three assists, shooting 19-of-28 from the floor, and is second in the Big South, behind teammate Xavier Cooks, in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.8). That was in evidence Tuesday against Liberty when Pickett went to the free throw line nine times.
“Now Adam’s stepped up, scored 21 tonight,” said Kelsey. “We’re gonna need that same type of production from somebody else after the loss of a player like Nych.”
Pickett had made little if any impact on the program before the past two weeks. The Eagles, who have scored the fewest bench points in the Big South, will need a similar emergence from seemingly nowhere with Smith removed from action.
“Sometimes people don’t do as well as they’re capable of in the classroom. They’re 18-year, 19-year old kids,” Kelsey said. “He’s gonna learn a lesson. He’s got to realize the No. 1 priority and goal for each of those basketball players on our team, whether they are scholarship or not, is to get their degree.
“He had a bump in the road and he’s gonna learn from it and get better for it, have the best academic semester of his life over the next three or four months, and he’ll be there with a Winthrop uniform on with a smile on his face ready to kick some butt and take some names in about eight months.”