By Brian Wilmer, @SportsMatters
ROCK HILL, S.C. — In a four-year Winthrop career in which he has hit some of the biggest shots in his school’s history, Keon Johnson almost walked away with one of his most memorable Saturday afternoon.Almost.
Johnson’s contested 25-footer from the right wing inexplicably dropped, just as the 2,255 fans who went crazy in the Winthrop Coliseum had seen so many times from the senior. The excitement was short-lived, though, as a time out had been called just a breath before the shot was launched. The ensuing possession ended with a shot that fell short, allowing High Point to escape with an 83–80, overtime victory.
“I just felt like we were a little discombobulated,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey of the sequence. “I just didn’t feel good about it. I started telling the official, ‘time out, time out’. I can’t call a live-ball time out, but the players all [heard] me yelling, so they [started] calling it. We probably called it a split-second before he actually shot the ball.”
Kelsey’s reaction probably echoed that of the fans in the seats when they realized the shot had been waved off.
“As soon as he let it go, I was like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, this is gonna go down,’ and it went down.”
The overtime period came after a second straight game in which a large lead slipped away from the Eagles. A Johnson free throw gave his club a 38–24 lead with 3:10 to play in the first half, before High Point closed the half on a 9–0 run to slice the halftime margin to five. The burst continued into the second twenty, as the spurt eventually reached 20–2 and gave the visitors a four-point lead. High Point (12–10, 6–4 Big South) never saw its lead grow larger from there, as Winthrop (16–5, 8–2) countered with an 11–1 response that stretched its lead back to seven.
High Point quickly countered, however, seemingly matching Winthrop basket for basket for several minutes. Winthrop extended its lead to six on a number of occasions, but could pull away no further, as the visiting Panthers calmly kept themselves alive.
“Every time we got a lead and made a little bit of a run and had a little bit of a cushion, I felt like they always answered,” said Kelsey. “It seemed like they answered every single time. When we were looking for that little spurt to get a little bit more separation, they didn’t allow us to do it. They made big plays and big shots down the stretch.”
High Point’s Tarique Thompson made a bucket in the lane to tie the contest at 75 with 28 seconds remaining, and Johnson was nearly poised to become the hero before overtime ever became necessary. Johnson drove the lane, but his final attempt was blocked away by High Point forward Miles Bowman Jr., as both players crashed to the floor. Johnson finally arose from the deck after a few minutes, but Bowman Jr. was helped off the floor, unable to place any weight on his right foot. The redshirt senior would not return to the game.
“For our guys to do it without arguably our best player in overtime was a huge lift for these guys and their confidence. I hate that I lost Miles, but hopefully he’ll be back soon, and it won’t be too serious,” said High Point coach Scott Cherry. “We’re just excited to come out of here with a victory, and we’re just excited for our guys to fight the way they did. Multiple guys stepped up and made big plays when we needed to.”
Panther guard Andre Fox knocked down two huge jumpers in the overtime period, including a clutch bucket with 19 seconds remaining that stretched the High Point advantage to three. He also keyed a High Point defensive effort that limited the homestanding Eagles to just 1-of-5 shooting in the extra five minutes, despite playing the period with four fouls. “He played the last five or six minutes of regulation, then played the entire five minutes of overtime with four fouls, and he had to guard Keon a little bit, too,” said Cherry. “Credit him. To make big shots, guard the way he guarded — he didn’t shy away from defense with four fouls — he did a great job for us.”
Fox scored 10 on the day, one of four Panthers in double figures. Bowman led his club with a double-double, scoring 22 points and hauling in 10 boards. Thompson added 17, with Anthony Lindauer tallying 15.
Kelsey was particularly complimentary of Bowman’s play. “He’s a [center] that can play with physicality close to the basket. Typical five men are used to guarding down there in the trenches, but when a guy like that can step out and shoot threes (Bowman connected on 6-of-7 tries from distance), it makes it hard. They’re not used to guarding people like that out there,” said Kelsey. “I thought a whole bunch of [the attempts] were very relaxed, with an open look, and with rhythm.”
Johnson’s 31 led Winthrop and all scorers. Junior forward Xavier Cooks contributed 19 points, eight boards, five blocks and three assists, guiding his club for several key stretches before Johnson took over. Senior forward Tevin Prescott added 10, going 5-for-9 from the floor.
The decision marked High Point’s fifth straight victory, as the Panthers continue through a stretch that drew them praise from Cherry for how the club has responded after a 1–4 opening to the league slate. Perhaps the biggest praise Cherry offered all day came toward someone not wearing purple on Saturday, however.
“Fortunately, we’ll take that somebody called a time out,” joked Cherry after the game. “I don’t know who it was, but thank you. Whoever it was helped us.”
Both teams will hit the road to Virginia for Big South action on Wednesday. High Point travels to Longwood, while Winthrop visits Radford. Both games are slated to begin at 7:00 (Eastern).
HIGH POINT 83, WINTHROP 80 (OT)
HIGH POINT (12–10, 6–4 BIG SOUTH): White 2–6 1–1 5, Wright 1–4 2–4 5, Fox 5–8 0–0 10, Madison 4–8 1–1 9, Bowman Jr 7–13 2–2 22, Williams 0–1 0–0 0, Thompson 7–15 3–3 17, Vargo 0–1 0–0 0, Lindauer 6–12 0–0 15. Totals 32–68 9–11 83.
WINTHROP (16–5, 8–2): Okeke 0–0 1–2 1, Perkins 1–4 1–3 4, Johnson 11–18 4–4 31, Cooks 7–17 4–5 19, B. Broman 0–3 4–4 4, A. Broman 0–1 3–3 3, Pickett 1–2 2–2 4, Ferguson 0–0 2–2 2, Prescott 5–9 0–2 10, Davenport 1–3 0–0 2. Totals 26–57 21–27 80.
Halftime — Winthrop 38–33. 3-Point Goals — High Point 10–21 (Wright 1–2, Fox 0–2, Madison 0–1, Bowman Jr 6–7, Thompson 0–1, Vargo 0–1, Lindauer 3–7), Winthrop 7–16 (Perkins 1–3, Johnson 5–7, Cooks 1–2, B. Broman 0–3, A. Broman 0–1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — High Point 36 (Bowman Jr 10), Winthrop 33 (Cooks 8). Assists — High Point 13 (Wright 7), Winthrop 8 (Cooks 3). Total Fouls — High Point 17, Winthrop 16. Technical — None. A — 2255.
Points in the Paint — High Point 30, Winthrop 26. Points off Turnovers — High Point 12, Winthrop 8. Second-Chance Points — High Point 7, Winthrop 6. Fast Break Points — High Point 4, Winthrop 2. Bench Points — High Point 32, Winthrop 21.