With everyone focused on various recipes for Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey knew what ingredient would be necessary for the perfect recipe for victory on Tuesday night.
“I told them in the locker room that the recipe of a good team is good defense,” Kelsey said after the Eagles posted a 59-35 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne at the Winthrop Coliseum. “That has to be the case for us the rest of the year.”
Winthrop put on a defensive clinic, yielding only 26.9 percent shooting from the field in allowing the Bears to convert only 6-of-26 shot attempts in the second half.
The defensive effort resulted in Winthrop allowing the fewest point total since 1996, when the Eagles defeated Johnson and Wales, 130-33.
It also held previously unbeaten Lenoir-Rhyne to less than half of its season point total of 66.5 points per game.
“I feel that for the first time this season, we can see what kind of team that we can be (with solid defense),” Kelsey said. “We saw it for a stretch against Indiana State.
“But it was not there for us against VCU. We have been working on this from day one.”
After being tied, 17-17, at the half, the Eagles outscored the Bears, 42-18 in the final 20 minutes. The in-your-face, man-to-man pressure caused Lenoir -Rhyne ball handlers into a rash of turnovers, charging fouls, and erratic shots.
Bears forward Derrick Henry went baseline for a reverse layup while being fouled. He sank the free throw for the three-point play to close the Eagles’ lead to six, 35-29, with 11:17 remaining.
Senior forward Gideon Gamble, who led the Eagles with 12 points, drained a 3-pointer from the corner, and forward Derrick Henry added a put-back following an offensive rebound on the next possession, putting the Eagles back in control, 40-29, with 9:42 remaining.
From that point, Winthrop came up with several defensive stops to prevent any threats of a Lenoir-Rhyne comeback attempt. The lead eventually swelled to 20 when guard Andre Smith connected on a long-range 3-pointer for a 54-34 cushion with 2:58 remaining.
Gamble and Smith reflected on the team’s defensive success, saying that is what coach Kelsey constantly preaches.
“That is one thing that he stresses all the time,” Gamble said. “We practice about two and one-half hours of defense in practice all the time.”
After analyzing the defensive failures from last Saturday’s 36-point loss to VCU, Smith said that the defensive effort had to get better.
“When we watched the film from the VCU game, we saw where we were not putting pressure on the ball like we should,” Smith said. “We emphasized that in practice and it paid off for us tonight.”
Forward Derrick Henry also netted double-figures with 11.
Winthrop (2-2) will return to action on Nov. 28 with a road game against Wofford.