Before Winthrop’s basketball season began, nearly everyone associated with the program had Saturday’s game with East Tennessee State circled as the “marquee” contest on the Eagles’ home schedule.
The homecoming festivities added to the game’s pageantry, and the game’s finish was every bit as exciting.
ETSU went on a late 9-0 run, then held off a charge by Winthrop to edge out a 76-74 win at Winthrop Coliseum.
“I thought it was a really fun game for the fans,” said ETSU coach Steve Forbes. “I wanna tip my hat to Winthrop. I think they have a really good team. They play really hard. They share the ball. They’re a reflection of their coach, who’s a tough-minded guy.”
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ETSU (2-2) jumped out to an early 13-4 lead, before the Eagles slowly chipped away. Winthrop (2-2) went on a 13-4 run of its own, securing its first lead of the game on a Nych Smith bucket and free throw at the 8:13 mark. Those three points were part of Smith’s 16 in the opening stanza. Kevon Tucker, who had hit just 1-of-7 tries from distance coming into the game and recorded 11 total points, went 4-for-8 from beyond the arc, helping propel the Bucs to a 35-30 lead at the interval.
The teams came out shooting well to start the second half, with several lead changes throughout the period. Winthrop built a six-point lead, which the visitors quickly countered. The game stayed very much a back-and-forth affair through the second half, until the final Winthrop possession.
Winthrop held a 74-73 lead with 26 seconds to play. The Eagles inbounded the ball, then attempted another pass. Isaiah Tisdale jumped in front of the pass, then dished to Jeromy Rodriguez for the shot that won the game. The Eagles had one final possession, but a dish to Kyle Zunic led to a shot that fell away as the horn sounded.
“We drew it up in the timeout,” Tisdale said. “He (Forbes) said to just get one trap and shoot the gap. I tried to read his eyes. As soon as I read his eyes, I just shot the gap and dumped it off to (Rodriguez), and he finished it.”
A Zunic jumper gave Winthrop a 71-64 lead at the 3:41 mark. Patrick Good knocked down a three-pointer for ETSU to cut the lead to four, after which the Bucs called a timeout. Good would then hit another triple for the visitors, sparking the 9-0 run that helped decide the contest.
“I felt it (the three-pointer) was big. We didn’t shoot it well in the first half, and Coach preaches confidence every single day,” Good said. “I’ve got the utmost of confidence in myself and my teammates, and they do the same for me.”
ETSU collected a 42-28 rebounding advantage, including a 17-3 advantage on the offensive boards. That advantage led to a 12-0 second-chance points margin by the Bucs.
Winthrop committed 20 turnovers in the game, leading to 31 ETSU points.
The Bucs placed three scorers in double figures. Isaiah Tisdale paced ETSU with 17 points, with Tucker adding 16 and Good 14.
Smith led Winthrop and all scorers with 26 on 9-for-12 shooting. Josh Ferguson added 14 for the Eagles, with Bjorn Broman tallying 11 and Zunic 10.
Winthrop travels to Rupp Arena Wednesday to face Kentucky. That game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. tip.