Winthrop University

Down two key contributors, could Winthrop beat Asheville in Big South opener?

Winthrop had overcome a miserable first half but Asheville had battled back to tie the game at 65 on Saturday, with a few minutes left in the two teams’ 2018-19 Big South Conference men’s basketball opener.

The visiting Eagles scored the next 15 points to pull off a 80-65 win.

Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey would be even happier with the victory considering two of his best players didn’t play a single minute. Senior guards Bjorn Broman and Nych Smith, the team’s leading scorer, both sat out with ankle injuries.

So it was up to other Eagles (9-5, 1-0 Big South) to pick up the slack. Austin Awad in particular did, knocking in 6-of-9 shots from 3-point range to finish with a team-high 19 points. Adam Pickett and Charles Falden each scored 13 points, while Josh Ferguson and Kyle Zunic pitched in 10 apiece. Freshman Micheal Anumba finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Ferguson also had a team-high 12 boards.

Winthrop had dropped its last three games in Asheville and it looked like a fourth straight would be a possibility after a poor shooting first 20 minutes. The Eagles hit just 3-of-17 shots from beyond the arc and trailed an Asheville club that has yet to beat Division I opposition this season, 31-19.

But the second half was a completely different affair. Asheville (2-13, 0-1) entered the game with eight freshmen on the roster and only one upperclassman. So when the Eagles started hitting shots, Asheville didn’t have the veteran savvy or steel to resist the visitors’ onslaught.

Winthrop scored 61 points in the second period, including 33 points from beyond the arc. A pair of Zunic 3s gave Winthrop its first lead midway through the second half, before the Bulldogs scrapped their way back into a tie at 65 all. But Winthrop paired defensive stops with scores on the other end to bury the hosts.

The Eagles travel to Campbell Thursday, Jan. 10 to take on the Camels and their prolific senior guard Chris Clemons, who earlier this season became the Big South Conference’s all-time leading scorer.