ROCK HILL, S.C. – With a short turnaround after a 119-85 loss at Auburn Friday night, Winthrop needed a shot in the arm to respond against a tough in-state foe.
Sophomore forward Josh Ferguson provided that and more, logging career-highs in points and rebounds in an 86-61 Eagle victory over MEAC opponent South Carolina State in front of a reported crowd of 1,107 at Winthrop Coliseum Sunday night.
“I was proud of our guys (and) how they responded from the other night,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “We had one quick day of preparation, and we handled it the right way.”
The contest started in a somewhat frenetic pace prior to the first media break, with the teams tied at eight. Winthrop went on a 19-9 burst to push its lead to 10 nearing the eight-minute mark. The Eagles kept the margin in or close to double digits for the remainder of the period, shooting 50 percent (15-for-30) in the opening 20 minutes. Forwards Xavier Cooks and Josh Ferguson logged 10 points apiece in the half, as Winthrop took a 43-31 lead to the interval.
SC State (0-6) started the second half with a pull-up jumper from Damani Applewhite and a corner three from Donte Wright to quickly slice into the Winthrop advantage. The Eagles responded in a hurry, holding the Bulldogs without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. Winthrop (3-3) went on a 13-4 run during that stretch, advancing the lead back into double digits. Winthrop’s defense continued to put the visitors on ice, forcing empty possessions and setting up the offense. The Eagle lead, in turn, ballooned to 20 at the 9:26 mark, then 25 as the clock hit seven minutes. The biggest Winthrop lead of the night appeared on a Charles Falden triple with just inside three minutes to play. After SC State’s baskets on its first two possessions, Winthrop held the visitors to just six more conversions from the field for the rest of the half.
“I think a lot of it was (that) our guys did a good job on the defensive end,” said Kelsey. “Our defense is something we take great pride in […] These guys know I’m not happy if we’re not guarding, and that’s the thing that’s going to eventually make us a really, really good team and a championship contender is developing these seven new guys into Winthrop system defenders and turning a weakness on the defensive boards to a strength eventually.”
Ferguson’s 21 points and 15 boards won the night in both categories. The Winthrop forward’s performance came at a key time for his club, as Kelsey has challenged his Eagles to show a more physical edge on the boards.
“Josh was a beast today, he was a monster,” said Kelsey of his sophomore post player. “I think a night like tonight, it gives you confidence. I’m sure he wished the game went for another 40 minutes, because he was really, really good tonight. Good things happen to those that work the hardest, and Josh has worked his tail off.”
“I didn’t feel too good in warmups, but I started to move off their penetration, off the guards, and it really got me going early,” said Ferguson. “Changing how I played against each matchup (in the post) helped a lot.”
Three Eagles joined Ferguson in double figures. Falden added 12 points, as did Xavier Cooks. Cooks did not start after not playing Friday night due to suspension, but nearly notched a double-double of his own by grabbing eight boards in 26 minutes. Winthrop finished the night shooting 45.5 percent (30-for-56), knocking down nine of 24 three-point tries (37.5 percent). Forward Austin Awad poured in 16 off the bench, drilling 5-of-9 from distance to bring his season total to 17-for-30 from three.
“(I’m) just trying to get up shots, good ones,” said Awad after the game. “Coach trusts me, Coach believes in my shot, so if I can see the rim and it’s a good one, I’m taking it. I’m not really too worried about the numbers right now.”
SC State’s Damani Applewhite was the lone Bulldog to finish in double figures. The 6-foot-8 sophomore tallied his own double-double, scoring 11 points and snatching 12 rebounds. The Bulldogs finished at 32.9 percent from the field (20-for-61), converting just four of 17 attempts from distance (23.5 percent). South Carolina State made just eight of its 29 field goal attempts in the final 20 minutes.
South Carolina State will return to the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to face NAIA opponent Morris College at 7:00 Tuesday, before returning to the road for games at NC State and Presbyterian. Winthrop travels to Furman’s Timmons Arena Wednesday evening. That game is also scheduled for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip.
WINTHROP 86, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 61
SC STATE (0-6): Fields 0-1 1-2 1, Kinard 2-7 3-4 7, Applewhite 5-13 1-2 11, Wright 3-11 0-0 9, Solomon 0-0 1-2 1, Jones 1-7 0-2 2, Neal 3-9 2-2 8, Banks 0-0 0-0 0, Raynor-Powell 2-6 6-8 11, Clement 2-2 0-0 4, Bottenberg 2-4 2-3 6, Taylor 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 20-61 17-27 61.
WINTHROP (3-3): Ukaegbu 0-0 1-2 1, Ferguson 10-15 1-2 21, A. Broman 1-6 6-6 9, B. Broman 1-3 2-4 5, Zunic 1-4 2-2 4, Smith 1-4 0-0 2, Blake 1-3 0-0 2, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 4-6 2-2 12, Cooks 5-14 2-2 12, Pickett 0-1 0-0 0, Awad 5-9 1-2 16, Poole 1-1 0-0 2, Erps 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-66 17-22 86.
Halftime — Winthrop 43-31. 3-Point Goals—SC State 4-17 (Kinard 0-2, Wright 3-9, Jones 0-4, Neal 0-1, Raynor-Powell 1-1), Winthrop 9-24 (Ferguson 0-1, A. Broman 1-5, B. Broman 1-3, Zunic 0-2, Falden 2-2, Cooks 0-1, Pickett 0-1, Awad 5-9). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Winthrop 44 (Ferguson 15), SC State 41 (Applewhite 12). Assists — Winthrop 17 (A. Broman 5), SC State 10 (Solomon 3). Total Fouls — SC State 22, Winthrop 21. Technical — NA. A — 1107.
Points in the Paint —Winthrop 38, SC State 22. Points off Turnovers —Winthrop 25, SC State 12. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 17, SC State 9. Fast Break Points — SC State 11, Winthrop 9. Bench Points — Winthrop 46, SC State 32.