By Brian Wilmer, @sportsmatters
ROCK HILL, S.C. — There’s a familiar refrain around the Winthrop basketball program: Do What We Do.
Saturday afternoon, Keon Johnson did what he does, and took over his team’s game.
The senior guard scored 24 of his career-high 39 points in the second half, including 10 straight in one stretch, guiding his Eagles to a 76–62 victory over Campbell before an announced crowd of 2,481 at Winthrop Coliseum.
“He’s a generational player. He’s a guy that they’re gonna talk about around here a couple of decades
from now. The performance he put on tonight was special, and he’s been doing it for his entire career,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey after the game.
Johnson’s breakout seemed all the more unlikely in the early going, as the teams struggled to get untracked. Campbell led by just a point at 12–11 over 12 minutes into the festivities, as what Kelsey likes to term a “tractor pull” ensued. The battle for separation continued through the final media break of the half, which found the teams tied at 22. A 10–2 surge for the home club out of that break — keyed, largely, by Johnson — gave the Eagles a 32–24 advantage at the interval.
Campbell (11–13, 4–8 Big South) went on a nifty 9–1 run to knife the Winthrop margin to just a point at 39–38 nearly five minutes into the second half. The Eagles kept the Camels at arm’s length for several minutes, until back-to-back Mogga Lado buckets cut Winthrop’s lead in half at 50–46 prior to the second media timeout.
Winthrop (18–5, 10–2) saw its preseason Big South Player of the Year go on one of his patented tears out of that stoppage. Johnson scored his team’s next 10 points, including a three-pointer that stretched his team’s lead back to seven and squelched the Camels’ momentum.
“I think he’s an unbelievable player,” said Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan. “You give an unbelievable player enough time to get a rhythm and get comfortable, eventually he’s gonna break through. I think it was just a matter of him catching fire during that stretch.”
“Campbell gave me a lot of looks,” said Johnson. “I was just playing off of what they were giving me. I was just taking what the game was giving me, and it turned out [well].”
All-Conference performer Chris Clemons connected on a triple minutes later to reduce the Winthrop advantage to 60–54 as the clock ticked under seven minutes to play. The Camels would draw no closer, however, as the Eagles got a 10–0 run on the back of tremendous shooting and stifling defense. That run moved the Eagles’ lead to 16 and essentially shut down the visiting side.
“We closed out the possessions. Whether it [was] a rebound or a long rebound and scrum on the floor, we were coming up with those balls to end the possession and to squash their run,” stated Kelsey of his team’s defensive lockdown.
Winthrop’s defensive success induced three Campbell shot clock violations in the game, each of which drew a fist pump and excited reaction from Kelsey. That defense limited the Camels to 38.9 percent shooting (21-for-54) on the afternoon, with Clemons forced to work for the 24 points he recorded. The sophomore guard connected on 8-of-17 shots, including just 2-of-6 from three-point range.
“A lot of guys had him at different times,” said Kelsey, while indicating that Johnson shared defensive duties with sophomore guard Bjorn Broman in trying to lock down the sharpshooter. “You can’t guard that kid with one person.”
Forward Mogga Lado joined Clemons in double figures, scoring 10 points and hauling in four boards in 24 minutes of action. “He’s been doing a really nice job,” added McGeehan. “I think he’s finding his rhythm. He provides physicality and rebounding and some presence there, which is really needed on our team. I’ve been pleased with how he’s been progressing.”
Winthrop forward Xavier Cooks turned in another solid performance, scoring 15 points and collecting nine boards, despite being somewhat limited by foul trouble. Johnson’s 39 marked the only other Eagle in double figures on the day — a total that even surprised his coach, at first. “I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t know he had 39 (when I took him out),” said Kelsey. “I saw a minute left (on the clock), and I didn’t want him to get hurt, so we got a guy to the scorer’s table.” Kelsey then mentioned he was unsure about whether or not he would have left his star senior in the game, had he been aware of his point total.
Both teams return to action Thursday evening. Campbell hosts Longwood, with that contest scheduled for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip. Winthrop travels to UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena for a contest between two of the three teams tied atop the league standings. That game will also begin at 7:00, and will be carried nationally on ESPNU.
WINTHROP 76, CAMPBELL 62
CAMPBELL (11–13, 4–8 BIG SOUTH): Eudy 2–3 1–3 7, Whitfield 1–8 3–3 5, Hamer 1–8 2–2 4, Clemons 8–17 6–7 24, Burk 2–8 0–0 4, Oliver 1–2 0–0 3, Lado 5–5 0–0 10, Gensler 1–3 3–4 5. Totals 21–54 15–19 62.
WINTHROP (18–5, 10–2): Cooks 4–7 7–10 15, Okeke 2–4 0–0 4, Perkins 3–8 0–0 6, Johnson 14–20 6–6 39, B. Broman 1–3 0–0 3, A. Broman 0–2 0–0 0, Pickett 1–1 3–3 5, Ferguson 0–1 0–0 0, Prescott 1–1 0–0 2, Davenport 0–3 2–2 2. Totals 26–50 18–21 76.
Halftime — Winthrop 32–24. 3-Point Goals — Campbell 5–16 (Eudy 2–2, Hamer 2–1, Clemons 2–6, Burk 0–4, Oliver 1–2, Gensler 0–1), Winthrop 6–17 (Cooks 0–1, Perkins 0–2, Johnson 5–9, B. Broman 1–2, A. Broman 0–2, Ferguson 0–1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Winthrop 34 (Cooks 9), Campbell 27 (Whitfield 6). Assists — Winthrop 10 (Davenport 4), Campbell 5 (Hamer 2). Total Fouls — Campbell 20, Winthrop 19. Technical — None. A — 2481.
Points in the Paint — Campbell 28, Winthrop 26. Points off Turnovers — Winthrop 19, Campbell 18. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 10, Campbell 9. Fast Break Points — Winthrop 11, Campbell 0. Bench Points — Campbell 18, Winthrop 9.