The question: what has Winthrop men’s basketball taken from losses to Southern Illinois and Colorado State that can be improved against a similar-level opponent, Auburn, on Friday?
The answers were much more quick and concise.
“We just need to rebound the ball better,” said Winthrop senior Xavier Cooks.
“We’ve got to rebound,” said the Eagles’ coach, Pat Kelsey.
Winthrop wasted an opportunity to upset Colorado State on the road, losing a 14-point second half lead in large part because of the Rams’ dominance on the backboards. Thanks to Nico Carvacho’s 20-rebound effort, Colorado State out-rebounded the Eagles 51-29. Carvacho and the Rams got 16 second chance points, mortally wounding for the Eagles in an 80-76 defeat.
Winthrop struggled similarly in the season opening loss to Southern Illinois, the Salukis winning 42-27 on the glass to break open the game in the second half.
“That’s how you finish games, you get stops and rebounds, and we’ve really struggled with that in the past,” said Cooks, who has 17 more rebounds than any other Winthrop player.
The Eagles put some salve on their egos against Division II foes Central Penn and Mars Hill, posting plus-nine and plus-18 rebounding margins in easy wins. And Winthrop is shooting 45 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. The Eagles have made 19 more 3s than their opponents, as a hallmark under Kelsey continues with this new-look group.
But a troubling trend continued even in the Division II blowouts: all four Winthrop opponents have grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Eagles.
“We’re a team that can really score and we’ve got a group full of guy leaning forward in that locker room that are trying to become Winthrop defenders,” Kelsey said after Tuesday’s game against Mars Hill. “There is a learning curve and it’s gonna take a little time but those kids are trying. But you have to finish possessions, you have to close out games by competing on the backboard.”
Here’s a shocker: Auburn has plenty of size. But the Tigers program is also tip-toeing a tightrope above a pit of total chaos, with a 400-pound knapsack strapped to its back.
The FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption has Auburn squarely in its crosshairs. Two players were recently suspended and assistant coach and former NBA player Chuck Person was one of 10 arrested in the initial roundup of suspects. Head coach Bruce Pearl, who previously ran afoul of the NCAA during his time at Tennessee, is in a tenuous position as the investigation continues to unfold. Pearl recently said he wouldn’t cooperate with the school’s internal investigation.
Results on the court haven’t been great either. Pearl did himself no favors when his team lost an exhibition game to Division II Barry University. The Tigers have beaten Norfolk State, Indiana State and Hofstra and lost to Temple since.
They are undefeated on the backboards, winning that category in all four games.
“The team we’re going to play on Friday is bigger, stronger, more physical and longer,” said Kelsey. “They’re gonna at the rebounding totals from those first two games and think ‘we’re going to get second shots.’ It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, and that’s been something we’ve focused on the last couple of days. Proof in the pudding is in the eating and we’ll find out.”