Winthrop University

Radford ends Winthrop’s chances of hosting Big South men’s basketball tournament

Winthrop’s Nych Smith heads to the basket around Presbyterian’s Chris Martin.
Winthrop’s Nych Smith heads to the basket around Presbyterian’s Chris Martin. tkimball@heraldonline.com

Radford dashed any chance Winthrop had of hosting the Big South Conference men’s basketball tournament with an 87-81 win Thursday night.

The Highlanders beat the Eagles for the second time this season, meaning they would own any tiebreaker over Winthrop if the teams finished tied in the standings. The winner of the Big South regular season title gets to host the conference tournament. Campbell, which tipped off a 9 p.m. Thursday night against High Point, could still catch the Highlanders.

Ed Polite Jr. was Radford’s high scorer with 22 points. Josh Ferguson fought through foul trouble to lead Winthrop (17-10, 9-5 Big South) with 24 points. Kyle Zunic (17 points), Nych Smith (15) and Adam Pickett (11) also scored in double figures.

Each side lost its previous game, an especially missed opportunity for the Eagles who entered Thursday night’s contest 1.5 games behind first place Radford.

Winthrop led 10-0 before Radford got on the board with a Polite Jr. dunk. That was the first two of 15 straight Highlander points as the hosts surged into the lead midway through the first half. Winthrop got back in front with a 9-2 run, spurred in part by Ferguson, who hit 5-of-7 3-pointers during the game. Radford had one more turn in front before Smith dropped in a difficult fadeaway foul line jumper as the half ended to put Winthrop up 39-37.

The second half was a tug of war, neither side getting ahead by more than four or five points for the first 14 minutes. But with around six minutes to play, Donald Hicks and Polite Jr., drained back to back 3s to put Radford (19-8, 11-2) in front 71-65 and prompt a Winthrop timeout with 5:40 left.

Winthrop fell behind by eight points with 2:30 left, but had cut the Highlanders’ advantage to 81-77 with about a minute left, when Hicks splashed in a 3 from the sideline as the shot clock expired.

Winthrop hosts Charleston Southern Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Eagles’ final regular season home game.

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