ROCK HILL, S.C. – UNC Asheville and Winthrop have enjoyed a storied rivalry over the last few years. Unfortunately, very few of Mike Morrell’s Bulldogs have been able to experience much of that rivalry.
Winthrop placed four players in double figures Monday afternoon, while holding the freshman-laden Bulldogs – first-year players tallied 190 of Asheville’s 200 minutes in the contest — to just 31.5 percent from the floor in a 66-45 victory before an announced crowd of 1,674 at Winthrop Coliseum.
“Credit to Winthrop. They were really ready to play today,” said Morrell. “I thought they did a tremendous job defensively, especially in the first ten minutes of the game.”
Winthrop (13-6, 5-1 Big South) indeed started the contest with a dominant defensive effort, breaking out to leads of 13-0, and, eventually, 23-4. The Eagles held the Bulldogs without a bucket over their first 11 tries, until DeVon Baker’s short jumper connected at the 11:32 mark. Asheville (2-18, 0-6) then went on a 13-2 run of its own, with Tajion Jones connecting on three straight triples to help pull the visitors within eight. Winthrop held Asheville at bay to close the half, taking a 32-21 advantage to the interval.
“It’s always good to see our guys fight,” said Morrell of the late first-half run. “I was really impressed when it was 23-4 – I was wondering if we were ever gonna score there for a bit – but it was good to see. That’s the experience that we’re talking about for these freshmen, coming on the road against a rival, against a really good team with veteran guys, and being able to go on a run like that.”
The Eagles and Bulldogs continued their slugfest into the second half, with Winthrop’s lead holding steadily between 12 and 16 for the first six-and-a-half minutes. Adam Pickett converted on a free throw at the 6:58 mark that finally stretched the margin to 20, allowing the home side to pull away from the Bulldogs for good. Back-to-back threes from Austin Awad and Micheal Anumba stretched the lead to 24, the largest advantage Winthrop enjoyed on the day.
“I was proud of our guys, in terms of our defensive effort,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “Our guys really locked in in the one-day prep on a lot of the bullet points that we wanted to focus on … It’s exciting for me, as a coach, to see. It just speaks to a veteran team that’s driven, that they do those types of things, and if we have that type of mentality moving forward, we’ll be in good shape.”
Jones paced the Bulldogs with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Winthrop’s defense keyed on guards LJ Thorpe and DeVon Baker throughout the day, limiting the pair to just four combined points on 2-for-19 shooting.
“We know that those guys are prolific scorers. When they get going downhill, (there’s a) lot of moves, (they’re) just really good at shifting people and drawing fouls,” said Winthrop guard Nych Smith. “(We just wanted to) make them uncomfortable, and we knew it would be hard for the team to get going if the two lead guys weren’t going.”
“Baker just absolutely killed us down there. He’s a really, really good freshman. All those kids are really talented,” added Kelsey. “We pored into the tape from the last game, and there were some tweaks and adjustments, and we felt like we not only had different things we had to do, but do what we do better.”
Stephen Edoka added 11 for the Bulldogs in the paint, including their final five points of the game.
“With the way they were playing the ball screen, we thought Steve was a little bit better look, and then he got in there and made the most of it,” said Morrell. “One thing you never have to worry about with him is his energy and his effort.”
Smith tallied 15 to lead the Eagles, with Pickett scoring 11 and Kyle Zunic 10. Bjorn Broman added 12 on 4-for-10 from three, with the final conversion from distance the 200th on the senior’s productive career.
“(If) you make me think about it for a second, it makes me sad that there’s only so many more months that I get to coach him, and that’s unfortunate,” said Kelsey of his star senior. “(He’s a) world-class kid … Bjorn’s one of those kids that you just look back someday, and go, ‘Man, I was blessed that I got to coach a kid of his character, his caliber, his talent, both on the court and off the court’.”
Winthrop connected on 22 of its 53 tries from the field (41.5 percent), despite going just 13-for-40 (32.5 percent) from distance. 15 of those 22 conversions were assisted, with eight Eagles recording helpers. Asheville was held to 31.5 percent (17-for-54), with four of 24 shots from beyond the arc (16.7 percent) finding the net. The teams combined for just 26 free throw attempts.
Winthrop continues its homestand Thursday, in a Big South Wildcard game that will be televised over ESPNU. That game with Gardner-Webb is slated for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip. Asheville will be off until Saturday, when the Bulldogs travel to High Point. That game in the Millis Center is scheduled for a 7:00 start, and will stream over ESPN+.
WINTHROP 66, UNC ASHEVILLE 45
UNC ASHEVILLE (2-18, 0-6 BIG SOUTH): Gilmore 0-2 0-0 0, Jude 1-5 2-4 5, Jones 7-12 0-0 17, Thorpe 0-7 0-0 0, Baker 2-12 0-0 4, Worthy 1-4 0-0 2, Edoka 4-5 3-5 11, Lawson 0-4 0-0 0, Heath 0-1 0-0 0, Peck 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 17-54 7-11 45.
WINTHROP (12-6, 4-1 BIG SOUTH): Ferguson 1-4 2-2 4, Smith 5-11 3-5 15, Anumba 1-1 0-1 3, Broman 4-10 0-3 12, Zunic 4-9 0-0 10, Schumacher 0-1 0-0 0, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 2-3 0-0 6, Pickett 3-5 4-4 11, Ukaegbu 0-2 0-0 0, Awad 2-7 0-0 5, Scerbinskis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 9-15 66.
Halftime — Winthrop 32-21. 3-Point Goals—Asheville 4-24 (Jude 1-3, Jones 3-8, Thorpe 0-3, Baker 0-3, Worthy 0-2, Edoka 0-1, Lawson 0-3, Heath 0-1), Winthrop 13-40 (Ferguson 0-2, Smith 2-7, Anumba 1-1, Broman 4-10, Zunic 2-7, Schumacher 0-1, Falden 2-3, Pickett 1-3, Awad 1-6). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds — Winthrop 41 (Falden 7), Asheville 34 (Thorpe 7). Assists — Winthrop 15 (Smith 4), Asheville 9 (Thorpe 6). Total Fouls — Asheville 19, Winthrop 15. Technical — NA. A — 1674.
Points in the Paint —Asheville 24, Winthrop 14. Points off Turnovers —Winthrop 10, Asheville 4. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 16, Asheville 11. Fast Break Points — Winthrop 8, Asheville 0. Bench Points — Winthrop 22, Asheville 19.
CURRENT BIG SOUTH STANDINGS