ROCK HILL, S.C. – Winning cures a lot of ills. Winning a game to break a four-game losing streak – and doing so in front of 4,000 screaming local schoolchildren – is about the most perfect elixir for which Winthrop could have asked.
The homestanding Eagles showed out in front of some of what Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey considers his most important customers, placing four scorers in double figures and cruising to a 93-73 victory over visiting SIU Edwardsville Tuesday morning.
“I think, more than anything else, it was just a little bit of a relief. It’s just nice to get back in the win column,” Kelsey said. “It’s been a really treacherous, tough grind of a pre-conference schedule, (and) we’ve got another tough one (against Elon) here at home on Saturday. It really tested our guys’ resiliency and their resolve going through that little stretch of four games … Our guys stayed positive and continued to work, (they) stuck together, and got a big win today.”
Winthrop (5-7) charged out of the gate to an 11-0 start, as the Cougars missed their first six shots of the game. The visiting Cougars gradually heated up, knocking down five of their next 10 to reduce the Eagle margin to its smallest of the period at 17-12. Winthrop withstood the somewhat icy stretch and again extended its lead, using a 6-0 burst to key an extended burst that provided the Eagles a 42-27 advantage at the interval. Nine of the 10 Eagles that saw minutes in the opening stanza scored.
SIUE (2-9) found its way a bit in the opening segments of the second half, knocking down shots at a 50 percent rate (6-for-12). As quickly as the Cougars could gain ground, Winthrop seized back the momentum at the other end, as it hit seven of its first 13. The offensive blitz continued for the Eagles, as Winthrop countered every SIUE punch. A Hunter Hale triple with 13:38 to play gave his club a 21-point advantage at 60-39, and the shot essentially finished the game. SIUE was never able to draw closer than 14 from there.
“I thought our offense was very, very good,” stated Kelsey. “We’re a very good offensive team, and a very, very good shooting team. It was just a matter of time, so it didn’t surprise me at all when the ball started to go in the way it did.”
The Eagles scored on just shy of 50 percent of their 75 possessions.
As happy as Kelsey was about the victory, he was equally pleased with the turnout from the Rock Hill school district, and how his team was able to perform – both as players and as examples – in front of the excited group.
“I thought our guys did their job by playing well, playing hard, and representing our school in a first-class manner,” said Kelsey. “There are so many kids out there that are impressionable, and that are looking for people to look up to, and are looking for role models. You’re not gonna find any better than a Winthrop basketball player.”
The Eagle players seemed to love the day as much as the kids. Whether dancing and getting involved with the fans before the game, signaling to the children to make more noise, or staying after the game to shake hands, give high-fives, and just talk to the kids, there was a clear impact on all fronts.
“Personally, I love it. We enjoy being around kids. I like high-fiving them, going through the crowd, talking to them, and joking with them,” said forward Micheal Anumba. “I’m a clown, to be honest, so just being around kids really makes me happy.”
Burns, a Rock Hill native and product of the same school system that produced the enthusiastic kids, led all scorers with 19 points. Burns’ mom, Takela, is an assistant principal at nearby Mount Gallant Elementary School, and the significance of the day was not lost on the redshirt freshman forward.
“It’s amazing. It was so fun to see all the kids out there, and they were just cheering and having fun. They didn’t seem like they had a care in the world,” said Burns. “They were cheering for us, and a few times for the other team. It was really great to see them out there.”
Burns’ performance also came on the heels of a Saturday game at Furman, in which he fouled out in just 11 minutes of playing time, scoring just two points. The practice time between the two games paid clear dividends for the physical post player.
“Let’s just say I got a lot of defensive reps. A whole lot of defensive reps,” commented Burns with a laugh. “I think I really needed it, just to get my focus back on defense, instead of being worried about scoring so much. I had a couple of games where I didn’t score as much, and I kind of let it take me off my game. That won’t happen again.”
Winthrop guard Chandler Vaudrin contributed another game in double figures, tallying 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting (4-for-5 from distance). Josh Ferguson and Hunter Hale finished with 12 apiece in a winning effort. The Eagles dropped a season-high 15 treys, shooting 51.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Zeke Moore and Cam Williams led the Cougars with 15 apiece. Guard Ty Williford added 12. SIUE shot 47.6 percent (30-for-63) on the day, with a 61.3 percent effort (19-for-31) in the second half.
SIUE next travels to Detroit to take on Detroit Mercy of the Horizon League. That game is slated for a 3:00 (Eastern) start Saturday afternoon. Winthrop remains at home to host Elon of the CAA. That game will commence at 2:00, and will be streamed over ESPN+.