ROCK HILL, S.C. – By nearly every measure, Saturday’s game between Furman and Winthrop matched two of the top five mid-majors in the country. It took mere minutes, however, for Winthrop to flex the muscle that led the Eagles to be everyone’s pick to win the Big South Conference crown.
The Eagles took control with a quick early burst and dominant first half, turning away Furman, 87-71, Saturday at Winthrop Coliseum.
“That was a big win. That was a big-time game,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said afterwards. “That’s (the Southern Conference) a terrific league. Terrific coaches, and really high-level basketball.”
Winthrop (5-0) tore open a close contest early with a 6-0 burst that afforded the Eagles a 10-point lead and compelled a timeout from Furman coach Bob Richey. The Paladins clipped the home side’s lead back a bit with three straight free throws, but a Charles Falden triple took the Eagles’ lead back to double digits, where it stayed for the rest of the first period. The advantage swelled to as many as 21, with Winthrop taking a 56-36 margin to the interval.
Furman (5-3) became the aggressor early in the second half, getting downhill and putting the Eagle defense on its heels. The Paladins broke off a 7-0 run in the span of a minute to knife the Eagle lead to 15 nearing the 12-minute mark, while holding Winthrop under 37 percent shooting in the first two segments.
The Paladins continued to battle through the second half, cutting the lead to as few as 12 following a Noah Gurley free throw nearing the five-minute mark. Winthrop continued to hold Furman at arm’s length, however, and the visitors were unable to draw closer.
“When you have a big lead like that, it’s a good test for your guys,” Kelsey stated. “Although they challenged a couple of times in the second half, our guys were pretty resilient.”
Charles Falden led Winthrop and all scorers with 18 points, dropping 7-of-12 tries from the deck. Three other Eagles accompanied him in double figures, with Russell Jones tallying 12 and Adonis Arms and Jamal King 11 apiece. The latter three powered a tremendous effort from the Eagle bench, helping it outscore Furman’s reserves, 46-21.
10 of the 11 Winthrop players who saw action scored in the contest. The Eagles’ depth is just one of the factors that has earned the club high honors early, but it was not lost on Kelsey after the game.
“We’re one of the deepest teams in the country.” noted Kelsey. “That is extremely hard to do in today’s instant gratification culture. We have guys on our team that are making sacrifices, that are maybe playing less minutes. It’s that collective whole that makes us really special.”
Four Paladins also completed the contest in double figures. Mike Bothwell paced the visitors with 16, while forward Noah Gurley added 14 while battling early foul trouble. Alex Hunter and Garrett Hien contributed 12 apiece. Winthrop also shut down star Furman forward Clay Mounce. Mounce finished scoreless on six attempts from the field, while fouling out with nearly eight minutes remaining.
“He just had a tough night because he couldn’t get in a rhythm,” commented Kelsey on Mounce’s performance.
Furman returns home Monday to host South Carolina State. Tip time is slated for 7:00 in Timmons Arena. Winthrop will be off until December 30, when Campbell visits Winthrop Coliseum for a two-game series to start Big South Conference play. Tip time for game one of that series is scheduled for 3:00.
Kelsey noted the need for his side to quickly turn the page.
“It was a good win for our program, but the fact of the matter is, that’s over,” Kelsey commented before releasing his team for the Christmas and holiday break. “When we come back, our 1000 percent focus will be on Campbell.”