ROCK HILL, S.C. – Every four-month basketball season can feel like a grind. Within that four-month grind, there are little moments that can define everything.
Hampton feels Saturday offered one of those moments. Winthrop hopes for the same.
Hampton placed three scorers in double figures and shot 54.4 percent from the floor, dealing Winthrop an 87-81 loss before an announced crowd of 3,493 at Winthrop Coliseum. The loss was the third in the last four games for the Eagles.
“Our year’s been up and down. I’m talking about injuries, bad losses … Like I told them, you’d never have thought that we walked in here in third place from the way that we felt,” said Hampton coach Buck Joyner. “If we could just come together, anything can happen at the end of the year. Now, they’ve proven to themselves that they can go win on any court. Hopefully, we can take it from here.”
Hampton (13-15, 8-7 Big South) took the fight to Winthrop early, never allowing the Eagles greater than five points of separation. The Pirates charged back from that early deficit and used runs of 12-0 and 23-5 to establish a double-digit lead. Hampton’s defense helped spur the runs, as Winthrop made just two of its final 10 and five of its final 20 shots in the opening stanza to head to the locker room trailing, 43-29.
The Pirates sizzled in the first half, shooting 53.1 percent (17-for-32) from the deck, despite hitting just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. Davion Warren and Jermaine Marrow paced the visitors in the first stanza, contributing 27 of their team’s 43 points. Winthrop (19-10, 13-3 Big South) connected on just 12-of-33 from the field in the half.
“Especially in the first half, (Warren) really jumped on us,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey stated. “You look at those two guys, the night that (forward Ben) Stanley had, and then that kid was 7-for-8 from the field. We tell our guys all the time (that) you’re gonna get everybody’s best shot, and I thought they were terrific tonight.”
“It was good for him,” said Joyner of Warren’s performance. “Davion has been great for us at home, but has had a tough go of it on the road. He was able to do some things on the road. Hopefully, it will pick up his confidence.”
Winthrop quickly sliced a 16-point Hampton margin in half to start the second period, as a Josh Ferguson triple brought the Eagles within eight with 14:20 remaining in the contest. The Pirates quickly extended their lead back to double digits and kept it there, until a furious 9-0 Eagle burst sliced the advantage to a single possession with 2:56 to play.
The Eagles never drew closer than that three-point margin, despite multiple chances. Winthrop possessed the ball with 49 seconds remaining, but two tries from distance to draw the game level both achingly circled away.
“Give Hampton a lot of credit. I thought they were the better team tonight,” said Pat Kelsey. “We fought back, like I think everybody in the gymnasium knew we would. That doesn’t shock me. We put ourselves in a position with the ball to tie the game. I think that one possession, we had two wide-open threes, (and) unfortunately, they didn’t go down. Your margin for error really lessens when you dig yourself a hole like that, and unfortunately, those shots didn’t fall.
“We’ve gotta figure it out. I’ve gotta figure it out. We’ve gotta figure out a way to use this as a catalyst, to use this as something that we look back on and say, ‘That tough stretch that we had was a big reason why we finished the season the way we did.’ We’ve got no other choice.”
Stanley led Hampton and all scorers with 31 points. The sophomore Baltimore, Maryland, native knocked down 13-of-17 shots from the field and contributed six rebounds while battling multiple-time Freshman of the Week award recipient DJ Burns of Winthrop.
“He grew up a lot tonight,” said Joyner of Stanley’s performance. “He waited and let the game come to him. He picked up those two fouls (early in the game), and he didn’t lose his composure.”
Marrow added 23 points, six assists, and four rebounds, bolstering his performance with an 8-for-8 finish from the line. Warren finished with a double-double, tallying 18 points and hauling in 11 caroms.
Burns contributed 19 for the Eagles, hitting 9-of-16 shots in 22 minutes of play. Hunter Hale added 18 on a 6-of-14 shooting performance.
Hampton returns to the floor Monday night, traveling to Gardner-Webb to finish a suspended game it trailed 39-31 at the half, before a shot clock malfunction forced the contest to be halted. That game is slated to resume at 7:00 (Eastern) at Paul Porter Arena in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. Winthrop resumes play Thursday night at USC Upstate. Tip time in the Hodge Center is set for 6:00.