ROCK HILL Winthrops mens basketball team bucked its January trend of fading in second halves, knocking off visiting Gardner-Webb 61-55 at Winthrop Coliseum on Wednesday night.
The Eagles led at the half, but a 15-2 run spurred the Runnin Bulldogs (10-10, 2-4) into a 41-37 lead with 14 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game. It was right around the time the Eagles (8-10, 2-4) had habitually faded in four of their five Big South Conference games.
But Pat Kelseys team mustered a timely riposte, thanks partly to Christian Farmer off the bench. His bucket tied the game at 41, before a left corner 3 gave the Eagles the lead for good with 12 minutes, 50 seconds to go.
Andre Smith knocked in a triple off a curl and Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann was teed up for arguing a no-call at the other end. Smith converted both free throws and within a span of a couple minutes, Winthrop could suddenly breathe.
The first thing was we got some big-time stops, Smith said after the game. But the shots were just big. Coach Kelsey told us just to relax and not worry about their run. Once you get that defense going, its easier to worry about offense.
The Eagles hit 6-of-7 free throws in the last 3:47, part of a 20-9 free throw attempt advantage, to hang on to a precious league win, and their seventh in eight games against the Runnin Bulldogs.
We challenged our guys to get back to what we do, to our identity, Kelsey said, referring to his teams defensive DNA. I think it got back to us bowing our neck.
Smith led Winthrop with 14 points, while Farmer added 13 and James Bourne 11. Smith and Farmer combined to hit 5-of-8 3-pointers, stretching the Gardner-Webb defense and allowing the home team to rack up an 18-6 scoring advantage in the paint. Bournes emergence in conference play, where hes averaging 8.6 points, has been critical to preventing teams from camping defensively on the Eagles three-point guns.
Weve just made a concerted effort to establish an inside post presence, said Kelsey. And the guy thats kind of emerged ... is James Bourne. To his credit, hes playing with a little more confidence; hes shooting such a high percentage we probably need to give him more touches.
Kevin Hartley led the visitors with 13 points, but Winthrop held Runnin Bulldogs leading scorer Donte Harper in check. Foul trouble limited him to 14 minutes and just 7 points, and hurt Gardner-Webbs chances for an elusive road win.
No question, said Holtmann, whose team hasnt won a conference road game in 11 tries. Its hard when you hardly play in the first half to get in a rhythm.
The two sides traded the lead in the early going, before the Eagles stepped in front with a 3 from Smith. Tashan Newsome scored to cut the Winthrop lead to 15-12, but the Eagles outscored the visitors 8-2 over the next 4 minutes to build a 23-14 advantage. Derrick Henry finished high off the glass, and after Hartley was whistled for a charge, Bourne wiggled open with a nifty back-cut for an easy bucket.
Out of the media timeout, Farmer drilled a deep 3 to make it 26-16, but Gardner-Webb closed the gap before the interval. Newsome drained a jumper while drawing a foul, then scored again in the paint. Steve Johnson produced back-to-back deuces for the Eagles, but Isaiah Ivey was left open on the right wing and buried a 3 as time expired to cut the Eagles halftime lead to 30-24.
Gardner-Webb hit its first six shots of the second half to take the lead. Max Landis scored 8 points in the spurt, including the triple that put the Runnin Bulldogs in front 41-37. Winthrop didnt panic, though. Instead, they re-focused on the defensive end, limiting the visitors to just 5 of 20 shooting the rest of the game.
Coach just said keep fighting, relayed Farmer. Dont get too high or too low. The main thing is you have to stay consistent.
The junior college transfer recently returned after a month out with a hairline fracture in his elbow, and stepped up for the Eagles on the offensive end Wednesday night, hitting two big shots to arrest Gardner-Webbs momentum. Farmer finished 4 of 5 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, giving the Eagles offense an extra dimension.
Chris is a very talented scorer, said Kelsey. He missed three weeks of practice and came back and was a little rusty. Slowly but surely, you can see his production coming back to where it was before he got hurt.
The win, and the performance of his team, was a big relief for Kelsey after a trying couple of days. He missed Tuesdays practice to fly back to Ohio because of a family death.
Thats why you hire a high-level staff. Mark Prosser, Brian Thornton, Tony Hanson did a phenomenal job, he said.
I slept like a baby yesterday knowing they had a really productive practice at a really high level.
Percentages: FG .447, FT .556. 3-Point Goals: 8-18, .444 (Hartley 3-5, Landis 2-6, Davis 1-1, Ivey 1-1, Strange 1-3, Newsome 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 2 (Hill, Hartley). Turnovers: 14 (Newsome 3, Harper 3, Hill 3, Hartley 2, Davis). Steals: 6 (Hill 2, Strange, Hartley, Harper, Landis). Technical Fouls: Bench.
Percentages: FG .444, FT .750. 3-Point Goals: 6-17, .353 (Farmer 3-4, Smith 2-4, Henry 1-4, Jerome 0-2, Gamble 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 3 (Gamble, Brown, Jerome). Turnovers: 12 (Smith 4, Brown 3, Henry, Farmer, Jerome, Gamble, Diop). Steals: 7 (Smith 3, Bourne, Farmer, Brown, Henry).