The lights went out in The Coliseum about 40 minutes before the tip of Winthrop’s nationally-televised Big South game against rival UNC Asheville Thursday night.
It seems they never came back on for the Bulldogs.
Winthrop hammered the visitors 85-58 with a performance as close to perfect as a college basketball team can get.
“Sometimes it’s just your night,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “I thought the atmosphere was phenomenal and we fed off the crowd.”
Adam Pickett lobbed to Xavier Cooks for a slam on the first play of the game. Cooks led the Eagles with 15 points and four other Eagles had 10 or more points in a third straight win. UNC Asheville never got going, the Bulldogs making just 4-of-22 3-point attempts in a limp offensive performance.
“You’ve got to find a way to get a basket another way and I thought we were just pressing,” said Asheville coach Nick McDevitt. “We didn’t find a way to stop the bleeding, other than attempting contested shots.”
Kelsey and Winthrop’s First Year Experience and sports marketing departments touted the game throughout the week with different attempts to lure students to The Coliseum Thursday night. In one video, Kelsey rode around campus in a golf cart tricked out to look like a taxi in a take on the Discovery Channel’s trivia show “Cash Cab.” He tweeted a video Thursday morning of Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly encouraging students to go to the game. The efforts paid off with a huge turnout, not just from students but from the community at large.
”It was all hands on deck to give a national television audience a good atmosphere,” said Kelsey. “The students responded. They were engaged, they participated... they were awesome. I really feel that was the energy that we fed off to get the start that we did.”
Winthrop (10-8, 4-3 Big South) and Asheville (11-9, 4-3) played a pair of classics last season, Winthrop winning by three and holding serve on its home deck and the Bulldogs winning at home in double OT.
Thursday night’s contest was nowhere near as close as those two.
Both sets of players dived onto the floor for a loose ball on the game’s opening tip-off, but the Eagles dominated the first half, thanks in part to the visitors’ woeful shooting. While the lights were out maybe somebody slipped a lid over the Bulldogs’ rim because the statistically-best shooting team in the Big South shot 30 percent in the first 20 minutes. They were 1-for-11 from 3-point land and only made 3-of-8 free throws.
Three-pointers by Josh Ferguson and Anders Broman and energetic play off the bench by Jermaine Ukaegbu sparked a 15-1 run that put the Eagles up by 21 points (35-14) in the first half. The scoring burst included multiple assisted field goals as Winthrop snapped the ball around the perimeter and cross-court. The Eagles finished the game with 18 assists on 27 field goals, repeatedly carving open the visitors’ defense. Their lead rarely got below 15 the rest of the game, and even reached 30 at one point in the second half.
Asheville became the fourth straight team Winthrop held below 40 percent shooting from the floor. That was even more impressive considering the Bulldogs led the league in multiple shooting statistical categories and had hit 47 percent of their 3-pointers in three straight conference wins prior to Thursday. Asheville hadn’t scored less than 70 points in Big South play until Thursday night.
“We were all trying to make plays but it led to bad offensive possessions,” said McDevitt.
Cooks continued his stat-stuffing ways, scoring 15 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, doling out five assists and blocking four shots.
During one stretch of Winthrop’s 15-1 first half run, Cooks backed his man down before firing cross-court to Anders Broman for a 3, blocked an Asheville shot at the other end, then took the ball coast-to-coast and finished off the glass with his left hand.
Ferguson was a big factor, contributing 13 points, nine boards and three rejections. He also had a strong game catching the ball, because his teammates, especially Bjorn Broman, were firing some spicy passes in his direction. Ferguson caught them all, giving him multiple point-blank looks at the rim that he finished.
Anders Broman poured in 19 points, a good sign for an important player that had been in a shooting slump recently, and Ukaegbu had one of his better games, providing seven points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and lots of juice off the bench.
“His minutes kind of fluctuate from game to game, but that’s what he’s supposed to be for us, an energy guy,” said Kelsey.
Ahmad Thomas led Asheville with 20 points.
Winthrop travels to Big South bottom-dweller Presbyterian Sunday afternoon looking for its fourth straight win.
WINTHROP 85, UNC-ASHEVILLE 58
UNC-ASHEVILLE (11-9): Baehre 1-7 0-0 2, Teague 4-12 5-6 14, Miller 4-8 0-0 8, Vannatta 1-6 0-0 2, Thomas 9-21 1-4 20, Townsend 0-0 0-0 0, Gilmore 2-4 0-0 4, Wnuk 1-4 0-2 2, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Seegars 0-1 0-0 0, Rackley 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 24-69 6-12 58.
WINTHROP (10-8): Ferguson 6-8 0-0 13, B.Broman 1-2 1-2 4, Pickett 4-5 0-0 10, A.Broman 4-7 8-10 19, Cooks 6-14 2-2 15, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Scerbinskis 0-2 0-0 0, Awad 1-5 0-0 3, Zunic 3-8 4-4 12, Ukaegbu 2-3 3-7 7, Pupavac 0-1 0-0 0, Blake 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 0-1 0-0 0, Erps 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 27-57 20-27 85.
Halftime—Winthrop 41-24. 3-Point Goals—UNC-Asheville 4-22 (Rackley 2-4, Thomas 1-3, Teague 1-7, Seegars 0-1, Vannatta 0-1, Miller 0-3, Baehre 0-3), Winthrop 11-26 (A.Broman 3-5, Pickett 2-3, Zunic 2-6, Ferguson 1-1, B.Broman 1-2, Cooks 1-2, Awad 1-5, Hill 0-1, Scerbinskis 0-1). Fouled Out—Gilmore. Rebounds—UNC-Asheville 35 (Thomas 11), Winthrop 42 (Cooks 11). Assists—UNC-Asheville 7 (Miller, Rackley, Vannatta 2), Winthrop 18 (B.Broman 6). Total Fouls—UNC-Asheville 21, Winthrop 12. A—3,347 (6,100).