ROCK HILL, S.C. – It’s hard to get Winthrop basketball coach Pat Kelsey to look at a basketball game in two halves. He would much rather stick to four-minute segments – and, almost always, the next four-minute segment.
However you dice up Saturday’s contest, Kelsey’s Eagles put together a performance that made their coach proud. Winthrop got a career-high 19 points from Chase Claxton and recorded a convincing, 104-71 win over UNC Asheville at the Winthrop Coliseum. The victory stretched the Eagles’ win streak to 12 and continued Winthrop’s undefeated run atop the Big South.
“When I was walking out of the locker room (after the game), somebody said, ‘Coach, you guys put together two halves.’ We don’t talk about the game in halves. We talk about the game in four-minute increments,” Kelsey said. “I thought we defended really well. I thought we rebounded really well. It was an overall good game.”
Winthrop (16-7, 10-0 Big South) surged to a fast early start, taking a 10-point lead six minutes into the game behind seven points from center D.J. Burns. DeVon Baker countered with eight quick points in a burst that drew Asheville back within two possessions at 24-20.
The explosive Eagle offense ensured the Bulldogs would draw no closer.
Winthrop unleashed a 17-2 burst over the next three minutes, affording the Eagles a 19-point lead that helped stave off the pesky visitors. The margin climbed as high as 22 in the opening stanza, before a 6-0 Asheville run knifed the interval margin to 52-36.
Asheville (9-12, 3-7) opened the second-half scoring with a Baker jumper that reduced the Winthrop lead to 14. Winthrop answered with a 10-4 burst that again enlarged the lead to 20. The lead hovered near the 20-point mark for much of the half and was at 21 when Lavar Batts knocked down a jumper for the Bulldogs.
That jumper would be the last Asheville field goal for a span of just greater than six minutes. Winthrop seized the advantage, stretching the lead to 33 before a Batts triple quelled the drought with 5:21 to play. Winthrop held Asheville at bay for the final few minutes, never allowing the lead to sink below 30.
LJ Thorpe paced Asheville and all scorers, finishing with 21. Thorpe tallied over half his total at the line, hitting 11-of-14 tries. Batts added 19 for the Bulldogs, while Baker chipped in 18.
Claxton’s 19 led Winthrop, with the freshman converting seven of his eight tries from the field. Burns added 17, while Hunter Hale tallied 16. Jamal King contributed to Winthrop’s massive advantage in bench scoring, pouring in 11. Kyle Zunic recorded nine of the Eagles’ 24 helpers on 35 made baskets.
“It’s great to see him have a big crooked number in the points column, because he’s not called upon to score a lot for us,” Kelsey said. “A bunch of those 19 were Kyle Zunic drop-offs. He just had to have his hands ready and go attack the rim.”
“Of course, it feels good scoring 19, but I hang my hat on defense, rebounding, and everything else,” Claxton said of his performance. “It feels good and all, but I’m really proud of the defensive performance, which was pretty good, like usual.”
“Chase is unbelievable. I love playing with Chase, because his spacing and his ability to find the open spot on the court is so good,” Burns commented. “He can find the (smallest) place, and he’ll turn it into a wide-open dunk. I don’t understand how he does it – I’m still trying to learn how to do it, myself. He’s unbelievable.”
Both teams return to action on their home courts Thursday. Asheville hosts USC Upstate in a 6:00 (Eastern) tip from Kimmel Arena. Winthrop welcomes Campbell to the Winthrop Coliseum. That game is slated to get underway at 7:00.