ROCK HILL, S.C. – If a Big South team receives any AP vote – ever – it must be having a special season. Winthrop is inarguably having a special season.
The Eagles were again challenged by Longwood Friday, before pulling away and claiming what they hope is a lucky 13th win against no defeats. Winthrop took down the Lancers, 70-50, Friday at Winthrop Coliseum.
“I was really happy with our guys’ response,” stated Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey after the game. “These back-to-back games are interesting, and they’re difficult. When you win – and we’re on a winning streak – the thing you always guard against is (that) you’re really sensitive to complacency, in any way, shape, or form. Our team hasn’t shown one iota of that at any point this season.”
“I just think it’s what Coach Kelsey preaches all the time, which is not worrying about the past, just (focusing on) the next thing,” Winthrop guard/forward Adonis Arms added. “I think that’s what it is for this team, really. We don’t really focus on the bad. We talk about it, and after we talk about it, that’s it. It’s over with. Let’s be great. Let’s chase it.”
The defensive fracas that marked much of Thursday’s first game of the series continued for a significant portion of the first half. Longwood (3-13, 2-8 Big South maintained a 12-11 lead until a Toneari Lane triple off the pine returned a two-point advantage to the Eagles. Winthrop (13-0, 10-0) led by a single point at 17-16, before a 10-0 burst fueled by back-to-back threes from Kyle Zunic and Josh Corbin induced a call for respite from Longwood coach Griff Aldrich. The Eagles closed the half on a 19-6 run to take a 36-22 advantage to the interval.
Winthrop’s defense further constricted the Lancers in the closing 20. The Eagles grew the lead to 16 on a runout dunk by DJ Burns following a Chandler Vaudrin rejection at the tin. Following a Longwood run that bled the margin down to 10, a personal 6-0 run by Arms again stretched the advantage to 16.
The lead was again gradually shaved to 10 before Winthrop unleashed yet another 9-0 run. As Justin Hill’s layup slowly brushed the strings at the 5:05 mark, the Eagle lead was nearing 20. Two Mike Anumba free throws finally pushed the Eagle margin north of 20. Winthrop closed the contest on a 7-2 run.
“There was a hunger when they came into the shootaround, and they came to the practice, and they came to the film session this morning,” Kelsey commented. “I saw a hungry team go back on the floor – a hungry team that didn’t get outrebounded, but almost did yesterday. They had 15, 16 offensive rebounds (Thursday), and only had five today. I loved that response.”
Juan Munoz paced the Longwood offensive effort with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting (4-of-10 from distance). Leslie Nkereuwem added 11 off the bench, knocking down all five of his attempts from the field. Longwood shot just 39.2 percent from the field for the game but connected on 46.2 percent (12-for-26) of its second-half tries.
Arms led Winthrop scorers with 15 points, using an 8-for-9 effort from the free throw line to add to his point total. Anumba and DJ Burns tallied 12 apiece alongside Arms. Winthrop shot 42.3 percent (22-for-52) from the floor, and turned in a near-perfect 19-for-21 night from the line to buoy the big win.
“I thought Adonis Arms was really, really good,” Kelsey added. “I’m glad to see it. He’s a kid that’s really trying behind the scenes to understand the intricacies of our defense, to understand the level of accountability that you have to have to be an elite Division 1 player and elite Division 1 team.”
Arms recognized a successful night but saw opportunities for even further improvement.
“I’ve got a higher standard for myself, and shooting 3-for-10 from the field, 1-for-5 from three … I’m better than that. I can be more efficient than that,” Arms noted after the game. “The free throws were good, but that should be 9-for-9 (instead of 8-for-9. I’ve gotta be better. I’ve got a clear place to improve.”
Both teams resume play with two-game Big South Conference series Tuesday and Wednesday. Longwood will host High Point, who has not played in two weeks due to a COVID-19 related pause. Winthrop will travel to Clinton, South Carolina, to battle Presbyterian. Longwood’s two contests will each tip at 6:00 and stream on ESPN+, while Winthrop will play Tuesday at 7:00 on ESPNU as the Big South ESPNU Wildcard game.