ROCK HILL, S.C – If you ever talk to Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, you’ll hear a number of phrases from the legendary Skip Prosser. Another made an appearance after his side’s Thursday game against Campbell.
“Blow ‘em out by one.”
It wasn’t one, exactly, but close enough.
Winthrop battled back from an eight-point deficit early in the second half and held off a charge from Campbell, claiming a 62-53 victory in a nationally-televised game and extending its win streak to 13.
“I just think it was a hard-fought win. Sometimes you’ve gotta figure out a way to win ugly,” Kelsey said. “We didn’t have our best offensive night, but I think that’s a tip of the cap to (Campbell coach) Kevin (McGeehan) and his kids, (and) how they defended us.”
That defensive effort from the visiting Camels made itself evident nearly from the opening whistle. Winthrop (17-7, 11-0 Big South) jumped out early and built a lead as big as nine points. The Eagles held that nine-point advantage until the 5:57 mark, when a Jesus Carralero bucket keyed a burst that changed the complexion of the game. Campbell (11-12, 2-9) closed the period on a 13-2 burst that afforded the Camels a 26-24 margin at the horn.
Campbell shot 50 percent (11-for-22) in the opening stanza, limiting Winthrop to just 29 percent at 10-for-34.
“They muddied it up,” said Kelsey of Campbell’s defense. “I think we were a little stagnant on the offensive end. They played hard. They had a good scheme coming in. I don’t look at those percentages and say, ‘Hey, we just weren’t very good offensively.’ I think they did a good job defensively.”
Despite the halftime deficit, Winthrop – as it has all season – kept its composure.
“I feel like we’re a second-half team,” said Winthrop forward Micheal Anumba. “Nobody was really frustrated or mad, because we all know each other. We all know in the second half, people lock in. We play defense, we really get stops, and when we get stops, we just go. Scoring is never our problem.”
The Eagles charged back from the halftime deficit, keyed largely by their defense. The Campbell lead slowly – and nearly torturously – drained away, and the chance to take the lead almost seemed to taunt Winthrop. That’s when Anumba – just as he had nearly two weeks prior against Presbyterian – found himself open for a corner trey that largely sealed the deal.
“I kind of knew the ball was coming to my hands,” Anumba recalled. “As soon as my man left me, I just knew the ball was coming to me somehow. As soon as it got to me, I just let it fly. The right corner, that’s my favorite spot. I let it fly, and it felt so good. The place went crazy.”
The three-point margin was the closest Campbell would come over the final 4:27. Winthrop knocked down seven free throws over the final 1:14, helping to extend the margin and stave off the Camels’ persistent effort.
Four Eagle scorers finished in double figures. Chase Claxton tallied 12 on 4-for-4 from the field, while DJ Burns added 11. Anumba joined Josh Ferguson with 10. Ferguson’s 10th point helped him eclipse the 1,000-point mark as an Eagle.
“I knew I was getting kind of close (to the mark),” Ferguson said. “I was just more focused on getting a win, and I knew it would come eventually.”
Ferguson also achieved the milestone with a special guest watching. Ferguson’s dad was in the stands to see the special bucket, despite the severe weather in the Rock Hill area.
“I’m real proud (to be able to have him watching),” Ferguson said with a smile. “He’s coached me. He played basketball in college. He put the first basketball in my hands (as a child). It was a really good feeling.”
Cory Gensler totaled 11 to lead the Camels. Forward Cedric Henderson added 10. The Camels shot 40.4 percent from the floor, despite hitting just 27.3 percent (6-for-22) from three. Campbell’s three-point percentage slipped a bit thanks to a wild sequence on the final trip down the floor for the Camels, in which the club missed four triples and secured three offensive rebounds, before the final miss landed harmlessly in Ferguson’s hands.
Both sides return to play Saturday. Winthrop travels to Farmville, Virginia, to face Longwood. Tip time in Willett Hall is scheduled for 3:00 (Eastern). Campbell returns home to Gore Arena to host Presbyterian. That game is slated to begin at 4:30.