ROCK HILL, S.C. – Winthrop has enjoyed its share of big games in Winthrop Coliseum in recent years. Saturday’s tilt with fellow first-place team High Point, with its legendary coach, Tubby Smith, had that same big-game feeling.
Pat Kelsey’s Eagles seized on the advantage, as they’ve done many times through his tenure at Winthrop.
Nych Smith paced four Winthrop scorers in double figures, helping guide the Eagles to a decisive, 80-63 victory before an announced crowd of 2,117 Saturday afternoon. The victory moved the Eagles to 3-0 in Big South play for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“You had to fight fire with fire. You knew you were gonna be in a battle,” said Kelsey of contesting the physical Panthers. “It was an interesting battle of styles. Fortunately, we made shots in the second half.”
High Point (8-8, 2-1 Big South) controlled the tempo early, with its physical style earning a six-point lead early in the contest. A 6-0 Winthrop burst tied the game, and a 13-5 run extended the lead to nine with fewer than five minutes to play in the first half. The Panthers trimmed the deficit to four with a Jordan Whitehead layup, before the Eagles fought back and took a seven-point advantage to the interval.
Winthrop (11-5, 3-0) again found itself trying to stem the tide of a High Point burst as the second half began. After Winthrop pushed the lead to six, High Point countered with a 5-0 run to slice the lead to one. Josh Ferguson then splashed a top-of-the-key triple on the ensuing possession, with subsequent threes from Bjorn Broman and Ferguson returning the home side’s lead to eight and forcing Smith to request a stoppage.
“That one stretch starting the second half, where we got back in the ball game, and they went on a run there where they made three straight threes really, I thought, took some of the wind out of our sails, and we never really recovered,” said Smith.
High Point drew within six on two made free throws following that break, but could never move any closer. Winthrop quickly extended its margin to double digits, and despite a Jahaad Proctor jumper pulling the Panthers within seven just inside the ten-minute mark, the Eagles kept a comfortable margin for much of the remainder of the game.
The Winthrop defense stymied the more physical and larger High Point backcourt, clamping off driving lanes and forcing the Panthers to take contested jump shots. High Point shot just 3-for-25 (12 percent) from three on the game, owing largely to the discomfort created by Winthrop’s pack line look.
“We really didn’t shoot the ball well, but a lot of it had to do with Winthrop and their ability to contest shots and force us to take quick shots,” said Smith. “When you look down and (see) we (shot) 12 percent, 3-for-25 … we’re just not a three-point shooting team. When you do that, you’re playing into their strength and your weakness. That’s what I thought really happened to us tonight.”
High Point connected on just 34.9 percent (22-for-63) of its shots, falling below that mark (31.3 percent) in the second half. Winthrop outrebounded High Point, 40-39, and negated a double-digit rebounding advantage High Point had enjoyed in its first two league games. The Eagles also largely neutralized adept guard Brandonn Kamga, holding him to just 11 points after he posted a 25-point output two nights prior.
“We were taking it to the basket, and we found we were able to penetrate, and they made some adjustments,” said Smith. “They started switching, and we couldn’t find those gaps.”
Winthrop, who connected on 30-of-64 shots (46.9 percent) got key efforts from forwards Micheal Anumba and Jermaine Ukaegbu, who, despite totaling just four points, played huge roles in locking down the bigger Panthers.
“Mike can be an elite defender. Mike can be a special defender … I thought today was Mike’s best defensive performance since he’s been at Winthrop,” said Kelsey. “(Ukaegbu) just goes in and gets a couple of big rebounds for us. That’s what a good team does. Guys know their role, and his job was to go in and defend and rebound, and he did it. I thought that was a big part of the game when he did it.”
Winthrop blocked off the higher portions of its seats for the game, moving fans closer to the floor and creating a setting about which Kelsey raved.
“It felt like a college basketball atmosphere today,” said Kelsey. “It just seemed like a more intimate atmosphere, and there was a buzz in the building today.”
Jahaad Proctor led High Point and all scorers with 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Forward Ricky Madison contributed a double-double (15 points, 11 boards), with Kamga adding 11.
Smith’s 19 led Winthrop, with Broman tallying 18. Forward Austin Awad tossed in 12, with Adam Pickett scoring 11.
Both teams return to conference play Wednesday night. High Point returns home to host USC Upstate, while Winthrop welcomes Longwood. Both games are set to begin at 7:00 (Eastern).
WINTHROP 80, HIGH POINT 63
HIGH POINT (8-8, 2-1 BIG SOUTH): Madison 5-6 5-6 15, Whitehead 2-7 1-2 6, Kamga 4-11 2-4 11, Wright 2-7 0-0 5, Proctor 7-17 8-8 22, Slay 0-3 0-0 0, Cameron 0-5 0-0 0, Gooding 0-0 0-0 0, Peterson III 0-3 0-0 0, Sanchez 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 22-63 16-20 63.
WINTHROP (11-5, 3-0 BIG SOUTH): Awad 4-10 0-0 12, Ferguson 3-5 0-0 8, Anumba 2-5 0-0 4, Pickett 5-7 1-2 11, Zunic 3-8 2-6 8, Smith 9-20 1-2 19, Schumacher 0-0 0-0 0, Hunter 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 0-1 0-0 0, Broman 4-8 7-9 18, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-64 9-13 80.
Halftime — Winthrop 39-32. 3-Point Goals—High Point 3-25 (Madison 0-1, Whitehead 1-1, Kamga 1-4, Wright 1-5, Proctor 0-7, Slay 0-2, Cameron 0-4, Peterson III 0-1), Winthrop 11-37 (Awad 4-10, Ferguson 2-4, Anumba 0-2, Pickett 0-1, Zunic 2-6, Smith 0-6, Falden 0-1, Broman 3-7). Fouled Out — Kamga (HP). Rebounds — Winthrop 40 (Broman 7), High Point 39 (Madison 11). Assists — Winthrop 13 (Anumba/Smith 4), High Point 7 (Whitehead/Proctor 2). Total Fouls — High Point 16, Winthrop 14. Technical — NA. A — 2117.
Points in the Paint —High Point 30, Winthrop 26. Points off Turnovers —Winthrop 11, High Point 7. Second-Chance Points — High Point 12, Winthrop 9. Fast Break Points — High Point 4, Winthrop 4. Bench Points — Winthrop 37, High Point 4.
CURRENT BIG SOUTH STANDINGS