Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey started the phrase “Never delay...”
And his players finished it: “Gratitude.”
That was the message in the Eagles’ locker room before they dropped Longwood 79-64 on Sunday afternoon.
Three of the York County law enforcement officers that were injured in last month’s shooting during their response to a domestic violence call were recognized before and during the game. Sgt. Randy Clinton, Sgt. Kyle Cummings and Sgt. Buddy Brown joined the Eagles in their locker room to a round of applause before the game, and then received an even bigger one during a timeout in the first half.
Kelsey said, “We talked about before the game something that we say to our players all the time, and this comes from coach (Skip) Prosser, who taught me to coach and to be a professional, and that’s to never delay gratitude. There is nobody that deserves more thank you and praise and gratitude than those people that put their lives on the line everyday when they button up the shirts of their uniform, knowing that their lives could be at risk.”
After the emotional pregame scene, a basketball game felt almost silly, according to redshirt senior Anders Broman.
“All we do is put a ball in a hoop,” he said.
But the silly stuff can happen because of people like Clinton, Cummings and Brown. Winthrop’s mission this week is simple: win the rest of its games to host the conference tournament. Part one of that three-leg project is complete after Sunday’s win. Winthrop’s shooting stats were very un-Winthrop-like in the first half, but Kelsey’s team sorted itself out at halftime and found the bottom of the net much more often in the second half.
“The game was a tale of two halves,” said Kelsey. “It was one of those tests where you have to try and maintain your discipline on the defensive end even when your shot’s not falling.”
Winthrop (18-9, 12-4 Big South) and Longwood (6-23, 3-13) combined to produce an entirely forgettable first half. The Eagles did their part, shooting just 28 percent from the floor, while the two teams combined to make just 7-of-30 3-point shots. Winthrop had several extreme offensive dry spells, including a stretch where they made just one of 11 field goal attempts.
And yet they still led, thanks to a Longwood team that didn’t seem interested in taking advantage of the Eagles’ shooting struggles. The visitors would pull within two or three points, but Winthrop always produced a 3 or some foul shots to extend the lead, which it held at halftime, 32-28.
B.K. Ashe’s two free throws got Longwood to within two points of Winthrop (32-30), before the Eagles ripped off an 11-0 run in less than two minutes that pushed their lead to double digits. Anders Broman buried a 3 while Josh Ferguson was fouled off the ball simultaneously. The 3 counted and Winthrop lobbed to Xavier Cooks at the rim off the ensuing inbounds for a five-point possession.
“When you get (defensive) stops you start to get momentum and then it starts rolling,” said Broman.
The Eagles forced a Longwood shot clock violation, then Broman hit another 3, drawing a foul from a Lancers defender. He hit the free throw, and Josh Ferguson’s dunk after another defensive stop forced Longwood to call timeout, suddenly down 43-30.
“Our defense is definitely a confidence booster for us,” said Ferguson. “We get going and the defense can’t set up and we get our shooters going.”
Any team would struggle to win shooting as badly as the Eagles did in the first half (4-of-17 from 3-point range alone). But Winthrop shot the ball markedly better in the second half, shooting 57 percent and making 7-of-13 from beyond the arc, with several of those coming during the run that put the Lancers away.
Also helpful: Longwood’s Isaiah Walton -- averaging a team-high 17 points per game -- was suspended and missed the game.
Kelsey’s team needed a jolt in the second half and no surprise that it came from one of the team’s steadiest players, Anders Broman. The five-point and four-point plays early in the second half woke Winthrop up.
“Guys have to be basketballs, not footballs. You drop a football it might bounce this way, might bounce that way,” said Kelsey. “But if you drop a basketball it comes right back to you. You absolutely know what you’re gonna get with Anders Broman.”
Broman led Winthrop’s balanced scoring, with 16 points. His younger brother Bjorn chipped in 11. Both hit three 3-pointers.
Ferguson had a double-double of 13 points and 13 boards. Pickett carried Winthrop at times in the first half, scoring 12 of his 14. And Cooks finished with 13 -- his 17th game in a row in double figures -- despite plenty of attention paid to him by the referees. He fouled out late, smacking his hands together as he plopped into his seat on the bench.
Longwood’s Ashe led all scorers with 21.
The toughest of Winthrop’s two remaining games is Thursday at UNC Asheville. The Eagles clobbered the Bulldogs 85-58 in their first meeting.
WINTHROP 79, LONGWOOD 64
LONGWOOD (6-23): Franklin 3-5 0-0 7, Geter 3-5 0-0 6, Glover 5-11 1-2 12, Ashe 6-19 7-9 21, Chapman 0-3 0-0 0, J.Smith 2-4 2-2 7, Shields 2-4 4-4 9, Wallington 0-0 0-0 0, Ezeani 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-52 14-17 64.
WINTHROP (18-9): Ferguson 4-9 5-7 13, A.Broman 6-15 1-1 16, Pickett 5-11 2-2 14, B.Broman 3-7 2-2 11, Cooks 4-9 4-5 13, Awad 2-5 0-0 5, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Zunic 1-2 0-0 3, Scerbinskis 0-1 0-0 0, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Blake 1-1 0-1 2, Falden 0-2 0-0 0, Erps 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 26-62 16-20 79.
Halftime—Winthrop 32-28. 3-Point Goals—Longwood 6-22 (Ashe 2-8, Franklin 1-1, J.Smith 1-3, Shields 1-3, Glover 1-5, Chapman 0-2), Winthrop 11-30 (A.Broman 3-7, B.Broman 3-7, Pickett 2-5, Zunic 1-1, Cooks 1-3, Awad 1-4, Ferguson 0-1, Falden 0-1, Scerbinskis 0-1). Fouled Out—Cooks. Rebounds—Longwood 31 (Geter 9), Winthrop 34 (Ferguson 13). Assists—Longwood 9 (Geter 4), Winthrop 13 (B.Broman 4). Total Fouls—Longwood 20, Winthrop 14. A—2,331 (6,100).