Tuesday’s 11 a.m. start was a difficult one for adult fans of Winthrop Eagles men’s basketball, but not for the busloads of local school children brought to the game, part of Winthrop’s Education Day partnership with Rock Hill School District. They filled the Coliseum with noise, losing their minds when shown on the jumbotron – let’s face it, what adults don’t do that? – and danced to every song. They struggled to organize the wave and cheered any and everything, basketball or otherwise, while chanting “Rock the hill! Rock the hill!” throughout the game.
“You have an engaged audience and it’s about making them have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, who praised the school’s marketing department for helping create the energy in the building. “There were times when the kids were almost disappointed when the game started back because the music was on point and the interaction with the scoreboard and the interactive-type things they were doing to generate crowd response. That’s work behind the scenes.”
Apart from watching the kids dance their brains out to every song played, there was a basketball game. The Eagles improved to 2-2 with the 104-49 win over NCAA Division II visitors Mars Hill. Winthrop made double-digit 3-pointers for the third game in a row, setting the table for a 16th straight win over non-Division I competition under Kelsey and a 48th straight overall.
Adam Pickett’s layup with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left got Winthrop to the 100-point mark and the kids in the crowd, on the cusp of a nice Thanksgiving break from school, high-pitch erupted.
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“It got out of hand a little bit in the second half but we continued to play the right way, share the ball,” said Kelsey. “When we do that we’re a very efficient offensive team.”
Winthrop scored the first seven points of the game, with Xavier Cooks scoring or assisting on all three field goals, before a Mars Hill offensive foul prompted an early timeout from Lions coach Vic Finora.
Charles Moore hit a 3 for Mars Hill out of the stoppage, but Winthrop scored the next eight points, Josh Ferguson slamming in a nice pass, before Cooks leaked out in traffic and tomahawk dunked a kick-ahead dish from Nych Smith to make it 15-3 with five minutes played.
Winthrop scored the first nine points of the second half in another strong start.
Fifteen different Winthrop players got into the game and the Eagles assisted on 24 of their 36 made shots. Those are the kind of stats that should follow a Division I program’s games against non-Division I teams, and they’re especially meaningful for Winthrop, with so many new players on this year’s team.
“Games like that let everybody kind of catch their rhythm,” said Smith. “Everybody gets in, we share the ball and everybody gets a piece.”
“Everyone had a great play today. It might not be on the stat sheet but we’re gonna have a long film session tomorrow and it’s gonna be highlighted,” said Cooks.
Cooks scored 18 of his 22 points in 15 first half minutes, making 6-of-7 shots from the foul line, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing four assists. Anders and Bjorn Broman and Austin Awad also hit double figures. And Smith led the team with six assists.
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Winthrop, still looking for its first win over a Division I opponent, travels to Auburn to face the Tigers Friday. Auburn’s program is tangled in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption with two players and an assistant coach suspended, and further suspicion still surrounding Bruce Pearl’s operation.
WINTHROP 104, MARS HILL 49
MARS HILL (0-1): Watkins 0-2 0-0 0, Wilson 0-1 0-0 0, Van-Rijn 2-8 2-4 7, Powell 2-9 0-0 4, Moore 1-7 0-0 3, Reeves 1-6 2-3 5, Evans 1-5 1-2 3, Gilyard 0-11 2-2 2, Hylton 4-8 0-0 12, Hartfield 0-3 3-4 3, Williams 2-6 1-2 5, Jackson 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 15-70 11-17 49.
WINTHROP (2-2): Zunic 2-6 0-0 6, Ukaegbu 1-1 1-1 3, B.Broman 4-6 2-2 12, A.Broman 4-7 3-3 13, Cooks 8-13 6-7 22, Awad 3-6 2-2 11, Hill 0-2 0-0 0, Ferguson 4-7 0-1 8, Poole 1-1 1-2 4, Pupavac 0-3 2-2 2, Falden 3-3 0-0 8, Smith 4-9 0-0 10, Blake 0-2 0-0 0, Erps 0-1 0-0 0, Pickett 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 36-71 17-20 104.
Halftime—Winthrop 52-24. 3-Point Goals—Mars Hill 8-30 (Hylton 4-7, Reeves 1-3, Moore 1-3, Jackson 1-3, Van-Rijn 1-6, Hartfield 0-1, Williams 0-1, Evans 0-1, Powell 0-2, Gilyard 0-3), Winthrop 15-33 (Awad 3-5, Falden 2-2, Smith 2-3, B.Broman 2-4, A.Broman 2-5, Zunic 2-6, Poole 1-1, Pickett 1-2, Cooks 0-1, Hill 0-2, Blake 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Mars Hill 36 (Powell 5), Winthrop 48 (Ferguson 9). Assists—Mars Hill 8 (Gilyard 3), Winthrop 24 (Smith 6). Total Fouls—Mars Hill 17, Winthrop 13. A—4,761 (6,100).