ROCK HILL, S.C. – Last season, Winthrop finished fifth in three-point baskets (372) and eighth in attempts (997) among NCAA Division 1 teams.
At times Thursday night, it felt as though the Eagles had eclipsed both of those numbers in their Big South opener.
Indeed, the Eagles took – and made – a significant number of threes, finishing 16-for-36 from the arc en route to a 91-67 blitzing of visiting Longwood to open Big South Conference play at Winthrop Coliseum. The 16 made triples eclipses the Eagles’ season-high of 15, set two games prior in a victory over SIUE.
“I thought we got out-competed, from start to finish,” said Longwood coach Griff Aldrich. “They came out, they were hungry, (and) they attacked from the get-go. I thought they shot the ball really well, but if you don’t compete, and then they’re playing well, you’ve got no shot. What happened tonight is going to happen.”
Winthrop (7-7, 1-0 Big South) started on its wire-to-wire journey with a Hunter Hale triple nearly two minutes into the game. Hale and forward Josh Ferguson combined for the Eagles’ first 22 points, facilitating a 12-point lead over the visiting Lancers before a Chandler Vaudrin triple finally placed another name on the sheet for Winthrop. The Eagles’ lead ballooned as high as 18 in that opening stanza, as the Winthrop lead remained in double figures for the final 9:50.
The Eagles carried a comfortable 44-31 advantage to the interval, despite connecting on just 38.9 percent (14-for-36) of their shots in the opening 20. Hale and Ferguson combined to equal the Lancers’ scoring output in the half, with Hale pouring in 21.
As comfortable as that first half may have been, the pendulum was about to completely swing to the favor of the home side.
Winthrop charged out of the locker room and unleashed an 11-0 run over the first 2:48 of the second period, compelling Aldrich to request a stoppage. Longwood (5-9, 0-1) countered with a Christian Wilson bucket seconds later, but the Lancers would need nearly five minutes to notch another bucket. The Eagles continued to hold serve, keeping the lead within that same comfortable range.
“It’s good to get conference play off with a win,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “I was proud of our guys for their attention to detail and the scouting report.”
Hale paced Winthrop with a career-high 29 points, connecting on 9-of-18 tries from the field. Ferguson added 17, with D.J. Burns tallying 12. Vaudrin finished with his first Division 1 triple-double, scoring 10 points, hauling in 12 boards, and dishing out 11 dimes. The redshirt junior led all NCAA classifications with four triple-doubles two years ago as a player at Division 2 Walsh.
Winthrop shot 40.5 percent (30-for-74) from the floor to control the offensive side, while forcing 23 Longwood turnovers that resulted in 21 Eagle points.
“I think, more than anything, the story of the game was how we defended,” Kelsey said.
Wilson led the Lancers with 25 points, knocking down 6-of-9 from the field and 10-of-12 from the line in 25 minutes off the bench. Forward JaShaun Smith added 11 points and eight boards, despite being limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble.
Both teams will have short turnarounds and continue Big South Conference play Saturday afternoon. Winthrop travels to Buies Creek, North Carolina, to take on Campbell. Tip time inside Gore Arena is slated for 2:00 (Eastern). Longwood returns home to face USC Upstate. That game will be contested at Willett Hall in Farmville, Virginia, beginning at 3:00.