ROCK HILL, S.C. – Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey often speaks of “crooked numbers”, usually praising his team for recording notable statistics.
Saturday, he referred to his club’s 25 turnovers as a crooked number, though in a much less positive light. His Eagles overcame that statistic and a too-close-for-comfort first half to eventually pull away from visiting High Point, though, beating the Panthers, 76-60, in front of an announced crowd of 1,168 at Winthrop Coliseum in the Big South Conference opener for both teams.
“It’s good to be 1-0,” said a seemingly relieved Kelsey after the game. “I was proud of our guys and how they defended, especially in the second half, and how they rebounded, as well.”
The first half was quite the struggle on both ends of the floor, with each side struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Despite not realizing he would start until his team’s shootaround early in the morning, guard Adam Pickett made the difference for the Eagles in the opening stanza, tallying 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor. The junior also provided a much-needed burst of energy for his club on both ends. Free throws told the story for the visiting Panthers. High Point (5-7, 0-1 Big South) connected on 11-of-15 tries from the stripe, versus just eight field goals. The Panthers finished the first half just 8-for-32 (25 percent) from the field, versus the Eagles’ 42.3 percent (11-for-26). The half featured 21 combined turnovers and 16 fouls.
Winthrop (7-5, 1-0) gradually gained a bit of separation early in the second half, as the one-point halftime advantage stretched throughout a prolonged Winthrop offensive stretch that culminated in an 8-0 run, pushing the lead to 14. All-conference forward Xavier Cooks finally got on the board early in the burst, as first-half foul trouble helped hold the senior star scoreless on just one shot attempt. High Point coach Scott Cherry lamented his team’s inability to separate from Winthrop and capitalize on Cooks’ struggles.
“You can’t hold a preseason first-team, possible Player of the Year to one shot and zero points in the first half and be down one,” said Cherry. “You can’t win. It’s not gonna happen. I was worried about it at halftime when I looked at that stat line.”
High Point continued to battle against the swarming Winthrop defense, with guard Andre Fox draining a three and Jahaad Proctor a jumper on ensuing possessions that narrowed the lead to nine. The Panthers would draw no closer, however, as Fox, Proctor and Brandonn Kamga continued to find tough sledding on the offensive end.
“We’ve gotta have those three guys,” said Cherry of his three big scorers. “Fox, Kamga and Proctor have to be good. They can’t be 15-for-40 and [3-for-14] from three. It’s not all on their shoulders. We’ve gotta lighten the load off those guys. We’ve gotta play better offensively.”
Cherry’s club also cooled off a bit from the line in the second half, attempting fewer free throws (10) in the second half than it made (11) in the first. The Panthers shot 38.7 percent (12-for-31) in the second half, finishing just below 32 percent from the field for the game. Fox paced the Panthers and all scorers with 21, making 7-of-13 tries from the field. Proctor added 12, despite hitting just 5-of-14 tries (1-for-6 from three).
Pickett notched a career-high 14 points, combining with guard Bjorn Broman to lead the Eagles in scoring. Broman added seven rebounds from his guard position, despite battling foul trouble for much of the game. Anders Broman finished one off his brother’s pace with 13, while Cooks was 4-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 from the line in the second half to also score 13.
“Starting was a different feeling,” said Pickett after the game. “One of our players (guard Kyle Zunic, who missed the game with an ankle injury) got injured, and we just have a ‘next man up’ mentality. I came in and tried to be productive.”
“He always gives us that spark,” added Broman. “He came in, and I don’t know how many deflections he had in that first five minutes. He really set the tone. Everyone feeds off of it. He really got it going for us.”
The highest praise on the day for Pickett came from his coach, however. “I don’t think we win the game without him,” said Kelsey.
Both clubs resume league play Wednesday evening. Winthrop will travel to Radford (Va.), while High Point will host UNC Asheville. Both games are slated for a 7:00 start.
WINTHROP 76, HIGH POINT 60
HIGH POINT (5-7, 0-1 BIG SOUTH): Kamga 3-13 1-1 7, Slay 1-2 2-2 5, Proctor 5-14 1-3 12, Fox 7-13 5-8 21, Whitehead 0-4 0-0 0, White 0-2 2-4 2, Wright 0-3 1-2 1, Mutts 2-4 3-3 7, Vargo 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas Jr 0-0 0-0 0, Madison 2-7 1-2 5, Berlin 0-0 0-0 0, Gooding 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-63 16-25 60.
WINTHROP (7-5, 1-0): A. Broman 2-8 7-8 13, Cooks 4-6 5-5 13, B. Broman 5-9 2-2 14, Pickett 5-8 3-3 14, Ferguson 3-5 2-2 8, Smith 3-6 3-3 9, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Blake 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 1-1 0-0 3, Falden 1-2 0-2 2, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Awad 0-3 0-0 0, Erps 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 22-25 76.
Halftime — Winthrop 30-29. 3-Point Goals—High Point 4-18 (Kamga 0-2, Slay 1-2, Proctor 1-6, Fox 2-6, White 0-1, Vargo 0-1), Winthrop 6-21 (A. Broman 2-6, Cooks 0-1, B. Broman 2-5, Pickett 1-4, Ferguson 0-1, Hill 1-1, Awad 0-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Winthrop 43 (Ferguson 11), High Point 30 (Proctor 7). Assists — Winthrop 8 (A. Broman/B. Broman/Smith 2), High Point 7 (Proctor 4). Total Fouls — Winthrop 21, High Point 19. Technical — NA. A — 1168.
Points in the Paint —Winthrop 34, High Point 24. Points off Turnovers —High Point 21, Winthrop 13. Second-Chance Points — High Point 7, Winthrop 7. Fast Break Points — Winthrop 6, High Point 0. Bench Points — High Point 15, Winthrop 14.