Winthrop survived a “muddy-type game” Wednesday night at The Coliseum, beating Presbyterian 63-49.
“They’re playing really, really hard,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “Today’s game was a battle of styles. The system that they’ve implemented is hard to prepare for and it’s hard to couple with our system because we play very fast.”
Winthrop won its seventh game in the last eight and fifth straight at home thanks to a late run. The Eagles hit 10 3-pointers but weren’t their free-flowing normal selves because of Presbyterian’s languid pace of play.
The Blue Hose (10-16, 3-10 Big South) scored six straight points in one first half hot flash to take a 15-10 lead, but the Eagles (15-9, 9-4) hit back almost instantly to start a 16-0 run. Adam Pickett and Josh Ferguson scored at close-range before Pickett and Bjorn Broman canned triples. Xavier Cooks scored consecutive buckets, the second on a slick move to the rim, before Pickett’s bucket forced a Presbyterian timeout with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left first half and Winthrop in front 26-15.
The momentum waned as Winthrop missed its first seven shots of the second half. The Blue Hose outscored the Eagles 15-3 in the first eight minutes, taking a 36-35 lead on J.C. Younger’s pull-up shot in the lane.
Winthrop’s 14-2 run late in the second half finally put the visitors to bed.
Cooks hit two free throws, then fired cross-court to Pickett for a 3-pointer. Pickett’s pull-up jumper and Cooks’ two free throws grew the lead to 49-42, before the Aussie kicked out to Chuck Falden for another 3. Winthrop stole the ball on the next play and tossed ahead to Josh Ferguson, who leaked out for a one-handed slam, a 54-42 lead, and a widespread sigh of relief in The Coliseum.
“We stopped scoring,” said Presbyterian coach Dustin Kerns. “I think they did a good job making some adjustments defensively and they converted a couple of those turnover stops into easy buckets.”
Winthrop showed gumption to grit out the right result in a game where it didn’t have its way. The Eagles had only been kept below 60 points once this season, but it looked like a second instance was certain midway through the second half as Presbyterian gummed up the game’s tempo. The Blue Hose, one of the slowest-playing teams in the country, tilted the speed in their direction.
The Eagles kept plugging away, a trait all championship teams possess, before producing the important last run to bury the Blue Hose.
“PC’s a good team, they definitely did a good job of slowing us down,” said Pickett. “I think we scored, like, two points in the first 11 minutes of the second half and then to finally get our offense flowing in transition, it felt pretty good.”
Cooks and Pickett carried Winthrop on an offensively stop-start night. Cooks had 18 points and five assists, his passing out of the post continually finding open looks for Eagles shooters. Pickett scored 10 of his 17 points in the first half before fouling out late. He made 3-of-4 shots from beyond the arc.
“I had been shooting pretty bad the past couple games, as far as the 3-point line,” said Pickett. “After you hit a couple it really opened up the floor for me to get downhill.”
Younger was scoreless in the first half but heated up in the second, pouring in 12 points and raising Winthrop’s anxiety levels for large chunks of the second 20 minutes.
And in one of the more interesting moments of the night, the jumbotron screen zoomed in on a live marriage proposal during a first half timeout. On the receiving end? Winthrop women’s lacrosse coach Julika Blankenship. According to a Twitter post from the Winthrop women’s lacrosse Twitter account, she said yes.
Winthrop plays at High Point on Saturday. The Eagles head into the game in sole possession of second place behind UNC Asheville (10-3 Big South), after High Point knocked off Radford (8-5) Wednesday night.