ROCK HILL, S.C. – For a few moments Thursday night, the atmosphere Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had envisioned was alive and well in Winthrop Coliseum.
Steal. Layup. Another steal. Another layup.
The roar of the crowd, fueled by the intensity of the home defense, willed the Eagles back from 16 down, as it increased with every bucket. Tennessee Tech kept Winthrop from climbing the final hurdle, though, escaping with a 61-58 victory before an announced crowd of 2,033 in Winthrop Coliseum.
“We played like the team we’re capable of (being) the last 12 minutes, but we’ve gotta be locked in the whole, entire game,” said Winthrop guard Russell Jones Jr. “We can’t have lapses, and that cost us tonight.”
“I think it was the old tale of too little, too late,” added Kelsey. “We exerted so much energy trying to get back into the game, and they made some big plays late.”
Winthrop (3-3) maintained control of a back-and-forth opening period until about the five-minute mark, keeping the Golden Eagles at arm’s length. A Darius Allen trey with 5:04 remaining in the half drew the sides level at 22, and the visitors closed the half on a 9-2 run to seize a 28-24 advantage at the interval.
Tennessee Tech (2-5) continued its onslaught into the second half. The Golden Eagles went on an 11-2 run that pushed their lead into double digits, while holding Winthrop without a field goal for a four-and-a-half minute stretch, in which the Eagles committed three turnovers. Winthrop charged back behind a 15-2 run, keyed largely by its defense. The Eagles forced seven turnovers in a roughly four-minute segment, slicing the Tennessee Tech advantage from 16 to a single point.
“Somewhere around the 12-minute mark, I think our intensity changed on the defensive end,” said Kelsey. “We had 21 deflections in the last 12 minutes. I think that’s a pretty good indicator that we just played harder on the defensive end, and that activity led to a lot of turnovers that led to baskets on the other side.”
The Golden Eagles staved off the Winthrop run, though, converting three straight buckets to extend the lead back to seven. Hunter Hale then knocked down a shot from distance to bring to a halt another four-and-a-half minute segment without a field goal, reducing the advantage to four. Two more Hale triples brought the Eagles within a single possession, but Hunter Vick scored the final seven points of the game for Tennessee Tech to help stave off a last-second three-point try by Winthrop and secure the win.
“That’s what they call on me to do. I come in and hit shots,” said Hale. “I think I need to be more aggressive throughout the game, especially when I’m trying to find my shot. 4-for-10 isn’t good, and I’m gonna work on that, for sure.”
Three Golden Eagles finished in double figures in the victory. Vick paced the Golden Eagles, supplying 16 points on a 5-for-10 effort from the floor. Forward Darius Allen also tallied 16 in 29 minutes off the bench, knocking down 4-of-9 tries from distance. Amadou Sylla finished one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring 13 points and hauling in nine boards in 25 minutes of play as a reserve.
Jones led the Eagles with 12 points, adding five boards, four assists, and four steals. Hale contributed 11 in 21 minutes, including 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Tennessee Tech returns home to the Hooper Eblen Center Monday night to face in-state rival Lipscomb. That game is slated for a 7:00 (Eastern) start. Winthrop also returns to action Monday night, hosting Pfeiffer. That game will also tip at 7:00.
For additional information on this game and the final box score, visit our Inside the Numbers feature on this contest.