ROCK HILL, S.C. – It’s hard to envision a better end to the careers at Winthrop of the five seniors honored Thursday night.
Those seniors started the game, then left to loud individual ovations after scoring a combined 45 points, as their Eagles scored an 86-72 victory over Charleston Southern in front of an announced crowd of 1,969 at Winthrop Coliseum.
“It was a special night because of, obviously, (being) the last regular-season game that a very, very special senior class played on this basketball floor. It’s bittersweet,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “It’s great to get a win on Senior Night and send those guys off – from a regular-season standpoint – on a good note.”
Winthrop (22-6, 14-3) jumped out to a rousing start in front of the home faithful, building a double-digit lead after the first nine minutes of the contest. The Eagles capitalized on Charleston Southern forward Antwan Maxwell and guard Armel Potter both being saddled with two fouls before the 11-minute mark, extending their lead as far as 17 points during the opening stanza.
“(The starting five) got us off to a great start. Hunter Sadlon had the first start of his career, and I think we got two or three defensive stops with him out there. (He was) switched onto some really explosive offensive players, and kept them in front of him,” said Kelsey. “Those guys gave us a lot of juice right from the jump. We were getting stops, we were rebounding, and we were really playing off the attack early, and got an early lead, which was nice.”
Charleston Southern (10-18, 6-11) took Winthrop’s early punches and stayed within shouting distance of the home club, thanks largely to the performance of Christian Keeling. The reigning Big South Freshman of the Week served as a one-man wrecking crew for the Bucs in the first half, tallying a double-double before the horn. Keeling’s 17 points (6-for-10 shooting, 5-for-7 from the line) and 11 boards brought CSU within a 43-31 margin at the break.
The Eagles and Buccaneers had not played each other since beginning the Big South league slate 55 days prior, but the space between games did little to slow the powerful Winthrop offense. A Potter bucket started the half for Charleston Southern, but an 11-0 Winthrop burst quickly extended the margin to 21. A CSU timeout stemmed the tide for the time being, as a 10-3 run sliced the home advantage to 14.
Keeling reduced the lead to 13 on two separate occasions. A bucket at the 10:17 mark accomplished the feat for the first time, leading to a 30-second timeout. A hoop-and-harm combination did the same just 40 seconds later, cutting the Winthrop margin to 65-52. The Buccaneers never pulled closer, however, as the Winthrop lead hovered between 14 and 18 until the final horn sounded.
The closing minutes of the game afforded Kelsey the chance to remove his seniors one-by-one, to the roars of the appreciative Winthrop Coliseum crowd. Each player stopped to acknowledge the crowd as he left the floor, as seniors Josh Davenport, Rod Perkins, Tevin Prescott and preseason Big South Player of the Year Keon Johnson each received a hero’s send-off.
One of the loudest cheers was reserved for guard Sadlon, who competed for three seasons as a walk-on before receiving a scholarship prior to the season. Chants of “WE WANT HUN-TER!” rained down from the student section, before Sadlon was placed back into the game to a large cheer. Sadlon’s teammates tried to free him to take the game’s final shot. This effort, though unsuccessful, displayed his club’s affection for the veteran.
“Hunter has done a lot for us behind the scenes. Just to see him go out there and try to make a shot is one of the big things we tried to do, especially on this night, because it was his last home game.,” said Davenport. “I wanted him, personally, to shoot it, just to jack it, just to get a shot off.”
Keeling’s hot first half contributed to a productive night for the first-year guard. Keeling finished with 28 points and 13 boards to lead all scorers, converting on 8-of-15 tries from the field and 12-for-16 from the stripe. Potter bounced back from a three-point first half to finish with 18 points and three dimes for the Buccaneers.
Winthrop forward Xavier Cooks notched his fourth double-double in a row, hauling in 10 rebounds to add to his team-high 22 points. Johnson had another strong night, scoring 21 points in 33 minutes. Prescott tallied 13 points and five rebounds in his final game on the Winthrop Coliseum deck.
Both teams finish their respective Big South regular-season slates on Saturday. Charleston Southern travels to Farmville, Va. to take on Longwood in a 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) start. Winthrop will look to win at least a share of the Big South title when traveling to Clinton, S.C. to face Presbyterian. That game will start at 4:30. By virtue of Gardner-Webb’s 81-76 victory over UNC Asheville late Thursday, the Eagles are now in a three-way first-place tie, and could win the title and hosting rights for the league tournament with a Liberty win at Asheville, or with a Gardner-Webb victory against High Point.
WINTHROP 86, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 72
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (18-11, 13-3 BIG SOUTH): Potter 6-14 6-7 18, Mitchell 2-7 2-2 6, Keeling 8-15 12-16 28, Maxwell 1-7 0-0 3, Howard 3-8 0-0 6, Robinson 2-4 0-0 6, Wallace 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 1-1 2-4 4, Major 0-0 0-0, Mmonu 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 23-58 23-31 72.
WINTHROP (21-6, 13-3): Perkins 4-9 0-0 9, Johnson 6-16 4-4 21, Prescott 5-6 3-5 13, Sadlon 0-0 0-0 0, Davenport 0-1 2-2 2, Okeke 1-1 2-4 4, Blake 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, A. Broman 1-6 0-0 3, Cooks 8-16 3-4 22, B. Broman 3-5 0-0 9, Pickett 0-1 3-6 3, Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0, Poole 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-63 17-25 72.
Halftime — Winthrop 43-31. 3-Point Goals—Charleston Southern 3-11 (Potter 0-1, Mitchell 0-1, Maxwell 1-3, Robinson 2-4, Wallace 0-1), Winthrop 13-34 (Perkins 1-6, Johnson 5-14, A. Broman 1-5, Cooks 3-3, B. Broman 3-5, Pickett 0-1). Fouled Out — Jones (CSU). Rebounds — Winthrop 41 (Cooks 10), Charleston Southern 35 (Keeling 13). Assists — Winthrop 12 (Perkins/Johnson/Davenport/A. Broman/B. Broman 2), Charleston Southern 6 (Potter 3).Total Fouls — Charleston Southern 23, Winthrop 21. Technical — Okeke (WU), Cooks (WU)). A — 1969.
Points in the Paint — Winthrop 28, Charleston Southern 26. Points off Turnovers —Charleston Southern 15, Winthrop 14. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 22, Charleston Southern 6. Fast Break Points — Charleston Southern 2, Winthrop 0. Bench Points — Winthrop 41, Charleston Southern 11.