Josh Ferguson and Austin Awad lifted Winthrop to its first win of the season against Division I competition Sunday night at The Coliseum, an 86-61 victory over South Carolina State.
Ferguson led the Eagles with a double-double of a career-high 21 points and 15 rebounds. Awad pitched in 16 off the bench and Xavier Cooks and Charles Falden each had 12. The Eagles (3-3) have scored over 85 points in four straight contests, and they played much better defensively against the Bulldogs after a less than stellar defensive performance against Auburn two days earlier.
“These guys know I’m not happy if we’re not guarding,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “That’s what’s eventually gonna make us a really, really good team and hopefully a championship contender is turning these seven new guys into Winthrop system defenders. Turning a weakness into a strength eventually.”
Despite an unusual Sunday night game time in front of a laid back crowd lightly sprinkled around the Coliseum, Winthrop started well against an S.C. State team that was 0-6, but whose record included losses to Wisconsin, Boston College, Yale and UCLA. The Eagles led by 12 points at the half (43-31), out-scoring the Bulldogs 22-10 in the paint and 17-6 off turnovers. Cooks and Ferguson each had 10 points in the first 20 minutes and the Eagles hit a couple of open 3’s -- two by Awad -- thanks to snappy ball movement to take control.
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Winthrop cruised in the second half and the biggest cheer of the night greeted late baskets by senior walk-ons Freddy Poole and Kellen Blake.
An 8-0 run early in the game gave Winthrop the lead it never relinquished. Anders Broman made a pair of free throws on consecutive possessions, Kyle Zunic finished an up-and-under layup and Falden scored off a Zunic steal to put the Eagles up 16-8 with about 11 minutes left.
Winthrop allowed 119 points to Auburn last Friday, the most points surrendered in the Eagles’ history.
“We played pretty well in spots, we tried to focus on that after the game,” Awad said about the Auburn loss. “We weren’t disciplined for about 10 minutes which is what took us out of it. We did a much better job of that tonight.”
Kelsey’s team was much sharper defensively Sunday night, holding the winless Bulldogs’ shooting percentage to 33 and forcing 19 turnovers. Twelve of the Eagles’ first 16 points stemmed from S.C. State turnovers and Kelsey said his team adhered to the scouting report much better.
Ferguson had his best game in a Winthrop jersey, using his length to keep multiple possessions alive on the backboard with seven offensive rebounds, and also getting into the open floor for a few dunks and layups. The sophomore, who ran into some early foul trouble in several games this season, ended the night with his first game in double figures this season.
“I think a night like tonight gives you confidence,” said Kelsey. “Good things happen to those that work the hardest and Josh has worked his tail off. He had a really good offseason.”
“Josh played like a monster tonight,” said Awad. “I think tonight he showed what he’s capable of.”
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Awad contributed off the bench, particularly shooting from outside. The junior hit 5-of-9 triples to finish in double figures for the fourth time in his five appearances. He’s made 17 3-pointers in five games.
Cooks didn’t start after missing the Auburn game two days earlier for disciplinary reasons. But he was into the game after 13 seconds following an S.C. State offensive foul. The Aussie finished with 12 points and eight boards.
Winthrop faces Furman on the road Nov. 29, then is back home Saturday, Dec. 2 against NAIA outfit Reinhardt University. The Eagles’ game against the Paladins will be their fourth in a week.
WINTHROP 86, SC STATE 61
SC STATE (0-6): Applewhite 5-13 1-2 11, Kinard 2-7 3-4 7, Fields 0-1 1-2 1, Solomon 0-0 1-2 1, Wright 3-11 0-0 9, Taylor 0-1 1-2 1, Bottenberg 2-4 2-3 6, Clement 2-2 0-0 4, Raynor-Powell 2-6 6-8 11, Jones 1-7 0-2 2, Neal 3-9 2-2 8, Banks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-61 17-27 61.
WINTHROP (3-3): Ferguson 10-15 1-2 21, Zunic 1-4 2-2 4, Ukaegbu 0-0 1-2 1, A.Broman 1-6 6-6 9, B.Broman 1-3 2-4 5, Poole 1-1 0-0 2, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Awad 5-9 1-2 16, Smith 1-4 0-0 2, Pickett 0-1 0-0 0, Falden 4-6 2-2 12, Blake 1-3 0-0 2, Erps 0-0 0-0 0, Cooks 5-14 2-2 12. Totals 30-66 17-22 86.
Halftime—Winthrop 43-31. 3-Point Goals—SC State 4-17 (Wright 3-9, Raynor-Powell 1-1, Neal 0-1, Kinard 0-2, Jones 0-4), Winthrop 9-24 (Awad 5-9, Falden 2-2, B.Broman 1-3, A.Broman 1-5, Cooks 0-1, Pickett 0-1, Ferguson 0-1, Zunic 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—SC State 38 (Applewhite 12), Winthrop 42 (Ferguson 15). Assists—SC State 10 (Solomon 3), Winthrop 17 (A.Broman 5). Total Fouls—SC State 22, Winthrop 21. A—1,107 (6,100).