A quickly exchanged glance led to what may have been the best play of the 2017-18 college basketball season by a pair of walk-on players.
Winthrop’s 90-67 win over Gardner-Webb was well in hand by the time senior guards Matt Erps and Kellen Blake checked into the game Monday night. But the pair put a big fat exclamation point on the Eagles’ home blowout of the first place Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Blake bricked a 3 but teammate and fellow senior Mitch Hill boarded the miss to give the Eagles one final possession. Erps, who joined the team this season after several years as a team manager, dribbled left off a Tom Pupavac screen near the 3-point line. Gardner-Webb’s Christian Turner was drawn into the lane and turned his back to Blake, who raced down the baseline. Blake said he and Erps momentarily shared a glance. They practice alley-oops all the time but never thought they would pull one off in a competitive game.
Blake said he was jumping whether the pass was thrown or not. Erps flung the ball toward the right side of the backboard and Blake caught it two-handed for the slam.
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“With guy as athletic as Kellen you can kind of put it anywhere,” said Erps. “He made a great play.”
The Winthrop bench went nuts and the crowd roared, including business management professor Larry Stevens, who always sits in the same seat near the baseline every game. He high-stepped down the baseline with joy, while the Eagles on the bench hopped up and down, whipping their towels and cheering. Erps said he and Blake have watched the play probably 50 times and their favorite part is their teammates’ reaction. They hope the momentum from the win, and its final play, carries into Thursday’s crucial home game against UNC Asheville on ESPNU.
“It gave everyone confidence, just kind of ended it on a high note,” said redshirt senior guard Anders Broman. “Everyone loves to see those types of plays, especially with those guys who work so hard every day in practice to get us ready. So to see them get in there and to have a special play like that was great.”
Blake is a high-flier. He probably dunked on a lot of people in high school, right?
“I couldn’t dunk in high school,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
Well, he could. Barely. It wasn’t until he graduated high school and went to Rise Academy, a Philadelphia prep school, for a year that he began to dunk regularly.
“I saw Erps and he just threw it and it was home from there,” said Blake. “Just instinct I guess.”
Blake, a 6-foot-2 senior from Arlington, Va., has scored 46 points in 33 games over the course of four seasons. Erps has two points and four assists in seven games this season. He and Blake are important members of the scout team, which prepares the rest of the players for what the opposing team will do. It’s a thankless job, rarely rewarded with anything as cool as an alley-oop to close out a big conference win.
“Me and (assistant coach Brian) Kloman were talking about this 5 minutes ago. Me and Kellen will probably remember this until we’re 70 years old, still talk about it,” said Erps. “It’s been pretty sweet, just the fact that that play happened.”