ROCK HILL, S.C. – Somewhere in the middle of Presbyterian’s game Saturday at UNC Asheville, the game announcers – ostensibly lovingly — called the Blue Hose a “pain”. Their coach might more aptly describe the club’s play as a rodent battling felines.
Home-standing Winthrop survived a slog of a contest coach Pat Kelsey often refers to as a “tractor pull” Wednesday night, using a 20-4 second-half run to defeat the Blue Hose, 63-49, in front of 655 at the Winthrop Coliseum.
Presbyterian coach Dustin Kerns spoke of his team’s effort – and the unconventional way he first inspired it – in his remarks after the game.
“We have some fighters, and that’s the way I want them to be,” said Kerns. “At the beginning of the year, I showed our team a video of a rat fighting three cats, and (I said), ‘what do you see?’ They said, ‘We see something small, we see something very ugly, but we see something fighting’ … It was a two-minute clip, and literally, a little rat had fought off three cats, to the point where the cats wanted nothing to do with him. I said, ‘That’s what I want our team to look like.’ We might not be the prettiest, we might not be the biggest, but we’re gonna fight you.”
Fight, they did.
The teams played – for most of it, anyway — a relatively even first half. Presbyterian endured a seven-and-a-half-minute stretch without a basket, during which Winthrop turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point advantage. A Romeo Crouch run-out basket halted the visitors’ drought, but the three Blue Hose buckets were countered by two Winthrop three-pointers, leaving the interval margin at 11. Half of Winthrop’s 12 first-half conversions came from beyond the arc, while Presbyterian connected on just one of eight tries from distance.
“I felt like we jumped out to a really good start,” said Kelsey after the game. “I think our guys showed a lot of resolve by not panicking when our shots weren’t falling — credit them for making our shots not fall – and not getting frustrated and letting that affect us on the other end of the floor.”
The second half started on a perilous offensive note for the home side, as Winthrop (15-9, 9-4 Big South) missed its first seven shots and connected on just one of its first 11 tries. Presbyterian (10-16, 3-10) battled back, erasing the halftime deficit and claiming a one-point lead on a J.C. Younger jumper at the 12:17 mark. Reggie Dillard then knocked down a free throw to give the Blue Hose a two-point lead. Four straight Winthrop points were neutralized by a Younger three, tying the contest at 40 with just inside 10 minutes remaining.
The Eagles were firmly on the ropes, needing a spark. They got it, as they have on several occasions during their recent hot streak, from junior guard Adam Pickett.
Xavier Cooks knocked down two free throws to loosen the stalemate. Pickett then drained a triple from the left wing and a square-up jumper just inside the paint on back-to-back possessions, quickly extending his club’s often-tenuous grasp on the proceedings. The Blue Hose would never again lead, and drew no closer than five the rest of the way.
Kelsey described after the game the jolt of energy the quick strikes from Pickett provided his club.
“That’s what he is (an energy guy). He sparks us. He’s a bucket-getter, man,” stated Kelsey. “He’s fearless … He’s got a closer mentality, (a) short memory.”
“I had been shooting pretty, pretty [badly] the past couple games, as far as from the three-point line,” added Pickett. “Hitting a couple felt good, and after I hit a couple, it really opened up the floor for me.”
Presbyterian still finds itself with double the wins total it recorded last season, with first-year coach Kerns’ grind-it-out tempo setting the stage for extended offensive possessions, forcing opposing defenses to guard deep into the shot clock. “Obviously, we wanted to dictate the tempo, and the best way to do that is on our offense, and taking great shots and limiting our turnovers,” said Kerns. “For the most part, I definitely thought we had the pace we wanted.”
“That’s the style that they have to play right now, to give their team a chance to win,” added Kelsey. “The system that they’ve implemented is hard to prepare for. (Kerns’) kids are playing very, very hard.”
Guards Reggie Dillard and J.C. Younger both scored 12 for the Blue Hose, serving as the club’s only double-digit scorers. Guard Davon Bell, one of the key cogs in the Presbyterian offense, had notched six points before the second media break, but was held to just one additional bucket. Kerns credited Winthrop’s defensive adjustments for holding Bell at bay.
“They started switching some on the ball screens,” said Kerns, who lauded Cooks’ defensive effort in guarding Bell. “They started switching onto Davon with him, and I think it created some problems, just with his size and length. He’s able to recover very well. He helps them on both ends of the floor.”
Cooks paced the Eagles with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, finishing even with Bjorn Broman for his club’s assists lead with five. Pickett added 17 on 7-of-9 shooting.
Both clubs return to action Saturday. Presbyterian hosts cross-state rival Charleston Southern in the Templeton Center in Clinton, S.C. That game is slated for a 4:00 (Eastern) start. Winthrop travels to High Point’s Millis Center to take on the Panthers. That game is scheduled to begin at 7:00.
WINTHROP 63, PRESBYTERIAN 49
PRESBYTERIAN (10-16, 3-10 BIG SOUTH): Tete 0-2 0-0 0, Crouch 2-8 0-0 4, Bell 4-12 0-0 8, Dillard 5-12 1-5 12, Younger 5-13 0-0 12, Withers 3-4 1-1 8, Catchings 0-1 0-0 0, Arroyo 2-4 1-3 5, Kay 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-57 3-9 49.
WINTHROP (15-9, 9-4): Cooks 6-11 5-7 18, Ferguson 3-4 2-2 8, A. Broman 3-9 0-0 8, B. Broman 2-11 0-0 6, PIckett 7-9 0-0 17, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Blake 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 2-5 0-0 6, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Awad 0-1 0-0 0, Poole 0-0 0-0 0, Erps 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 7-9 63.
Halftime — Winthrop 32-21. 3-Point Goals—Presbyterian 4-19 (Crouch 0-5, Bell 0-2, Dillard 1-4, Younger 2-7, Withers 1-1), Winthrop 10-28 (Cooks 1-4, A. Broman 2-8, B. Broman 2-8, PIckett 3-4, Falden 2-3, Awad 0-1). Fouled Out — Pickett (WU). Rebounds —Presbyterian 34 (Tete/Younger 6), Winthrop 32 (Ferguson 8). Assists — Winthrop 14 (Cooks/B. Broman 5), Presbyterian 5 (Bell 3). Total Fouls — Presbyterian 14, Winthrop 14. Technical — NA. A — 655.
Points in the Paint —Presbyterian 24, Winthrop 22. Points off Turnovers —Winthrop 19, Presbyterian 18. Second-Chance Points — Presbyterian 11, Winthrop 4. Fast Break Points —Presbyterian 4, Winthrop 2. Bench Points — Presbyterian 13, Winthrop 6.