ROCK HILL, S.C. – Radford found itself at a bit of a crossroads after Campbell’s Chris Clemons hit a game-winning shot in the Dedmon Center to beat the Highlanders on Wednesday. Those outside the program had to wonder how Mike Jones’ club would respond in a first-place battle with Winthrop Saturday.
The response, though maybe not immediate, was emphatic.
Carlik Jones made key shot after key shot, tallying a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double in a resounding, 80-61 victory before an announced crowd of 2,681 in the Winthrop Coliseum.
“We definitely expected their best punch, and I thought our guys were ready from the start of the game,” said Jones. “To hold them to 31 in the first half was big, and (in the) second half, I just thought that, at some point, we had resolve. We just decided that we were gonna be tough, in spite of all the adversity that was happening in the half. We were much more efficient offensively in the second half, but our defense was every bit as solid.”
The game started on a somewhat glacial pace, with the teams combining to sink just one of their first 10 shots. As time progressed, the tempo quickly intensified, with a number of transition trips and three-point attempts. The sides battled each other nearly evenly through the opening 20, with neither club able to separate further than four points apart from its opponent. It looked as though Winthrop would take a four-point advantage to the interval, but an Adam Pickett reverse layup called good on the floor was overruled after a replay review.
Radford (16-7, 8-1 Big South) seized the lead at 32-31 on an Ed Polite trey just 25 seconds into the half. Kyle Zunic countered with a layup on the ensuing possession for Winthrop (14-8, 6-3 Big South), which gave his club its final lead of the game. A prolonged 18-7 Highlander run gave Radford its first double-digit lead of the contest at 50-40, and, as Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said after the game, largely sealed the proceedings.
“We had the lead at halftime, and they jumped on us right from the beginning. It sorta snowballed from there, and we never fully recovered,” said Kelsey.
A crazy sequence unfolded under the basket a short time later, as a skirmish took place between both sides. Radford guard Devin Hutchinson and Winthrop guard Nych Smith were assessed unsporting technicals as a result of the ensuing fracas, while Highlander guard Caleb Tanner received a physical technical. Winthrop had a chance to cut the margin to nine points with two free throws off the technical, but neither would fall.
“When adversity hits in a game, it can’t be ‘woe is me’, you’ve just gotta be able to turn the page and keep competing on the next possession,” said Kelsey. “Adam (Pickett) went to the line when they got a technical, and missed those two free throws – it’s sure as heck not Adam’s fault – (and) it was just like the collective mentality for our guys was, ‘it’s not our night, and here we go again’, instead of, ‘hey, next play, keep playing’.”
“I thought it was big that Devin came to Caleb (Tanner)’s rescue there (during the skirmish). I didn’t necessarily agree with what happened (the result of the play),” said Jones. “We’re a pretty tight team, and guys look out for each other, and they look at each other as brothers. Anytime they can help each other out, they try to do that.”
Winthrop closed to within seven with 4:36 to play on a Nych Smith jumper, leaving the game still somewhat hanging in the balance. Much as he did all night, though, Jones returned serve with a quick jumper on the ensuing possession. Following a Travis Fields bucket, Jones stuck a three to push the lead back to 14, and put a lid on the game.
“We obviously have a lot of him with the ball in his hands,” said Jones of his redshirt sophomore leader. “He’s pretty good at understanding when it’s his time to make a play for himself. His basketball IQ is tremendous, so anytime we can get the ball in his hands, we like it.”
“Carlik Jones was phenomenal. Every time we made a sniff like we were gonna inch back in the game, he would make a big shot, and sort of closed out the game, if you will,” said Kelsey.
Jones’ double-double paced the Highlanders and all scorers. Fields added 16, and senior guard Caleb Tanner contributed 11 in 19 key minutes compiled while Fields and fellow guard Donald Hicks battled foul trouble.
“He made some big shots, man. He made threes, he drove to the basket and he got a three-point play. He had some big minutes,” said Jones of Tanner. “He brings it every day, and he’s a consistent guy in practice every day, so it’s always good to see when he has success on the floor during a game.”
Radford shot 51.9 percent (28-for-54) on the day. The Highlanders shot 61.5 percent in the second half, converting on 16-of-26 tries.
Smith’s 22 points led Winthrop. Guard Bjorn Broman was the only other Eagle in double figures, finishing with 10.
Winthrop hit just one of their 14 tries from distance in the closing 20, part of an 8-for-29 (27.6 percent) effort in the half. The Eagles hit just shy of 34 percent of their field goal attempts (20-for-59) and just over 23 percent of their threes (7-for-30). Winthrop also significantly struggled from the line, converting on just 14-of-25 attempts.
Both teams return to Big South play Thursday night. Radford travels to Hampton for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip in the HU Convocation Center. Winthrop hits the road to face Charleston Southern. That game is scheduled to commence at 7:30.
RADFORD 80, WINTHROP 61
RADFORD (16-7, 8-1 BIG SOUTH): Polite Jr. 4-12 0-0 11, Sallah 1-3 0-0 1, Jones 8-11 6-9 23, Hicks 2-3 2-3 7, Fields Jr. 5-9 4-6 16, Hutchinson 2-4 0-0 6, Owens 0-2 0-0 0, Tanner 4-7 1-1 11, Butts IV 0-0 0-0 0, Holland 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 28-54 15-21 80.
WINTHROP (14-8, 6-3 BIG SOUTH): Ferguson 2-6 2-2 7, Smith 8-15 3-9 22, Anumba 0-3 1-2 1, Broman 1-6 7-8 10, Zunic 2-9 0-0 4, Falden 2-5 0-0 5, Pickett 4-9 1-4 9, Ukaegbu 0-1 0-0 0, Awad 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 20-59 14-25 61.
Halftime — Winthrop 31-29. 3-Point Goals—Radford 9-23 (Polite Jr. 1-4, Jones 1-2, Hicks 1-2, Fields Jr. 2-5, Hutchinson 2-4, Owens 0-1, Tanner 2-5), Winthrop 7-30 (Ferguson 1-5, Smith 3-5, Anumba 0-2, Broman 1-6, Zunic 0-3, Falden 1-3, Pickett 0-3, Awad 1-3). Fouled Out — Hicks (RU), Ukaegbu (WU). Rebounds — Radford 40 (Jones 10), Winthrop 35 (Ferguson 9). Assists —Radford 11 (Jones 6), Winthrop 8 (Smith 3). Total Fouls — Radford 27, Winthrop 18. Technical — NA. A — 2681.
Points in the Paint —Radford 36, Winthrop 22. Points off Turnovers —Radford 13, Winthrop 10. Second-Chance Points — Radford 6, Winthrop 5. Fast Break Points — Radford 2, Winthrop 2. Bench Points — Radford 23, Winthrop 17.