ROCK HILL, S.C. – It’s not a common occurrence for a team to have a 10-0 run in both halves.
Winthrop shook off a slow start and achieved the feat Saturday, moving to 8-0 and extending their lead in the Big South standings with a 72-57 victory over Presbyterian at the Winthrop Coliseum.
“I think – for the second game in a row – the thing that had the biggest impact in the game was our defense,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “We had 42 deflections – which is well beyond what our goal is – (we) forced 26 turnovers (and recorded) 14 steals, and I think that was the difference.”
The sides endured a slow start, with Presbyterian the first to break double digits on a Michael Isler jam at the 10:40 mark of the first half. The Blue Hose extended their lead to 17-11 before Winthrop unleashed a 10-0 burst to again snare the advantage. The back-and-forth tussle continued for the remainder of the half, with Winthrop unable to separate by greater than a single possession. The Eagles took a 27-24 margin to the locker room after shooting just 33 percent (10-for-30) in the half and hitting just one of 11 three-point tries.
Winthrop (14-7, 8-0 Big South) never trailed in the second half, despite facing a stiff challenge. Presbyterian (8-13, 5-3) knocked down three straight triples to open the period, drawing within a single point on multiple occasions. The second of the Eagles’ 10-0 runs shoved away the Blue Hose, however, with a Hunter Hale triple punctuating the burst and bringing the announced crowd of 3,011 to its feet.
“He’s a big shot maker. He’s made a bunch of them this year,” Kelsey said of Hale. “It just seems like in big moments with his feet set, he’s fearless, and he’s got that real calm demeanor about him, (and thinks) give me the ball, I want the big shot, I want it in my hands. That’s important. We’re a really good team, but he brings that big moment, big shot making component.”
Hale, for his part, demonstrated that calm demeanor when recalling the timeout after the made three.
“(We had to) just keep doing what we were doing. We had to get stops – that was the big thing, just getting stops and getting kills, and getting out and running in transition,” said Hale.
Winthrop continued getting stops, and may have tallied its biggest stop just before the midway point in the second half.
The Eagles forced a shot clock violation by Presbyterian, after which Micheal Anumba clenched his fists and screamed, “Let’s go!” The ensuing possession loomed large, as Anumba drilled a corner trey off a Kyle Zunic pass and provided what felt – and later proved – to be the dagger.
“After I made that three, in my head, I kind of thought that the game was over. At the same time, Coach Kelsey, his voice is in my head 24/7,” said Anumba with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Next play, next play.’ You can never think that the game is over.”
Which excited Anumba more: the shot clock violation or the three?
“Definitely the shot clock violation,” Anumba declared. “When we got that shot clock violation, it was a great feeling, (and) a great stop. The crowd was into it, and that’s what I do best.”
Kelsey answered the same as Anumba, all the way down to the word “definitely.”
“I thought that was really cool. I got pretty fired up about that too,” added Kelsey.
Winthrop extended its win streak to 10 games, despite going the final 6:08 of the game without a field goal. The Eagle defense continued to hold strong during the cold period, never allowing the Blue Hose to creep closer than the final 15-point margin.
“When you’re guarding and you’re getting stops, it doesn’t matter. You can weather storms, and you can weather offensive droughts,” Kelsey said.
Hale’s 19 led all scorers for the Eagles. The redshirt senior hit 6-of-11 tries from the field and dropped 3-of-6 beyond the arc. Anumba added 11 points and six boards for the Eagles, while DJ Burns contributed 10.
Every Blue Hose player who played scored at least two points. Chris Martin paced Presbyterian with 13 on 5-for-9 shooting. The Blue Hose shot 45.8 percent (11-for-24) in the second half.
Both teams return to action Thursday. Winthrop travels to Charleston Southern, with tip time from the Buc Dome slated for 7:30 (Eastern). Presbyterian hosts USC Upstate in a nationally-televised tilt from the Templeton Center. That game is slated to commence at 7:00.