ROCK HILL, S.C. – It’s hard to keep secrets late in the year. It’s especially hard to hide things from a team you just faced a week prior.
Top-seeded Winthrop encountered a few bumps in the road – some of its own making, some caused by upstart eight-seed Charleston Southern – but persevered and took home a 92-78 victory in the Big South quarterfinals at Winthrop Coliseum Thursday evening.
“A tip of the cap to Charleston Southern,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey after the game. “They’re hard to guard. They’re an attacking, downhill team, and they’re coming at your teeth, as we like to say, again and again and again. They put foul pressure on you on every possession, and our guys did a good job, I thought, of keeping the ball in front of us.”
It seemed early on that Big South Player of the Year Keon Johnson was trying to duplicate Campbell guard Chris Clemons’ effort from earlier in the quarterfinals. The Winthrop senior logged 10 points before the first media break, helping his team get out to a 15-7 start. Winthrop (24-6) extended its lead to 34-20 on a Johnson conversion at the 5:40 mark. The teams played nearly level the remainder of the half, as the Eagles took a 44-31 advantage to the locker room.
Charleston Southern (12-19) emerged from the locker room dictating tempo, as the Winthrop advantage gradually dwindled. The 13-point advantage shrunk to an uncomfortable four, as a Javis Howard bucket made the Winthrop lead just 55-51 at the 11:35 mark. That basket triggered a 30-second timeout by the Eagles, and proved to be a pivotal stretch in the contest.
“(We told them) we had to get stops and rebound the ball,” said Kelsey of the message during the timeout. “If we do that, if we’re getting stops on the defensive end and we’re able to play out in transition, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh noted the difference in the response between the two teams.
“You could just tell their poise. We cut it four, and they’re not rattled. We cut it to four, and we’re excited. We’re jumping up and down,” said Radebaugh. “They just walked to their bench, and we’re jumping up and down. You could just see the difference in the teams, from an experience standpoint.”
The Bucs’ youth and Eagles’ experience showed during the few minutes after that stoppage. Back-to-back three-pointers by Rod Perkins and Xavier Cooks countered buckets by All-Freshman performer Christian Keeling, with a Tevin Prescott flush finally expanding the lead back to double digits.
The separation proved beneficial for Winthrop in fighting off the Bucs. Armel Potter converted on a layup at the 6:50 mark that reduced the margin to nine, but Charleston Southern could draw no closer. Still, Radebaugh expressed pride in the strides his team had made, and in its future.
“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our team,” said Radebaugh. “That score’s not indicative of what a good contest it was. I thought our guys played with great courage, (and) with great physical toughness. I thought our guys executed very well.”
Keeling echoed those sentiments.
“It’s scary,” said Keeling. “Just the fact that we’re all three coming back (Keeling and guards Cortez Mitchell and Armel Potter), and we have more freshmen, and we’ve (only) got four seniors leaving, so that’s the majority of our team’s coming back … it’s just scary. We’ve got something to build on.”
Potter led the Bucs with 21 on the night. Mitchell added 19, while Keeling recorded a double-double (18 points, 11 boards). Charleston Southern shot 56.3 percent (18-for-32) in the second half, hanging with Winthrop for much of the period.
Winthrop guard Keon Johnson scored 31 to lead all scorers, including a free throw that helped him break the 2,000-point mark for his career. Eagle forward Xavier Cooks also recorded a double-double, adding 19 points and hauling in 10 boards. Guard Anders Broman finished with 15, while guard Rod Perkins added 12.
The Eagles advance to play fourth-seeded Gardner-Webb in Friday night’s second semifinal. That game will begin shortly after 8:00 p.m. in the Winthrop Coliseum.
#1 WINTHROP 92, #8 CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 78
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (12-19): Maxwell 1-4 0-0 3, Howard 3-6 0-0 6, Keeling 7-15 4-4 18, Mitchell 7-10 5-12 19, Potter 6-13 9-12 21, Jones 1-2 2-2 4, Mmonu 0-1 0-0 0, Durkee 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 1-2 0-0 3, Wallace 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 27-57 22-32 78.
WINTHROP (24-6): Perkins 4-7 1-2 12, Okeke 1-1 0-2 2, B.Broman 0-4 0-0 0, K.Johnson 11-22 4-6 31, Cooks 6-11 4-9 19, Poole 0-1 0-0 0, Davenport 2-3 1-2 5, Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Prescott 4-5 0-0 8, Sadlon 0-0 0-0 0, Blake 0-0 0-0 0, A.Broman 4-6 4-4 15, Pickett 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 32-61 14-25 92.
Halftime — Winthrop 44-31. 3-Point Goals— Charleston Southern 2-12 (Robinson 1-2, Maxwell 1-3, Mitchell 0-1, Wallace 0-2, Potter 0-4), Winthrop 14-30 (K.Johnson 5-9, Cooks 3-4, A.Broman 3-5, Perkins 3-6, Poole 0-1, Pickett 0-1, B.Broman 0-4). Fouled Out — Jones (SU), Mitchell (CSU). Rebounds — Charleston Southern 25 (Keeling 10), Winthrop 37 (Cooks 10). Assists — Charleston Southern 6 (Mitchell 2), Winthrop 17 (Cooks, K.Johnson 5). Total Fouls — Charleston Southern 25, Winthrop 23. Technical — Jones (CSU), Cooks (WU). A — NA.
Points in the Paint — Charleston Southern 38, Winthrop 30. Points off Turnovers —Charleston Southern 13, Winthrop 12. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 8, Charleston Southern 6. Fast Break Points — Charleston Southern 4, Winthrop 0. Bench Points — Winthrop 28, Charleston Southern 11.