ROCK HILL, S.C. – The number 12 was a big number for the Winthrop Eagles as they entered Thursday night’s game.
The Eagles were 12-0 in the Big South for the second season in a row. The betting line – for those who pay attention to those things – favored Winthrop by 12 over its visiting regional rival, UNC Asheville.
Now, Winthrop will get the chance to embrace the number 13.
The homestanding Eagles withstood a 23-10 run by hot-shooting Asheville to close the game, holding off a fierce rally and seizing an 84-80 victory over the Bulldogs to move to 13-0 in Big South play and claim their 21st win in a row dating back to the 2019-20 campaign.
“I was proud of our guys,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said after the game. “I loved the effort that we played with. I thought we attacked the offensive glass … I thought our guys were very tenacious in how they played.”
Winthrop (16-0, 13-0 Big South) trailed by two with 8:16 to tick down in the first half, with a Coty Jude jumper giving Asheville an advantage that quickly faded. The Eagles unleashed a 13-0 burst keyed by three consecutive Josh Corbin triples, turning the deficit into a double-digit lead for the home side over a span of fewer than three minutes. Asheville continued to battle despite the run, however, cutting Winthrop’s interval margin to 38-31.
Asheville (9-9, 8-5) drained back-to-back buckets within the span of 45 seconds to knife the Winthrop lead back to single digits early in the second half. The Bulldogs connected on 9-of-10 shots to open the period, keeping Winthrop from seizing on the momentum of its halftime lead. As hot as the Bulldogs got – they remained at 75 percent for the half at the final media break and finished the period at 72 percent – Winthrop always had a counter.
Charles Falden drained a triple at the 10:30 mark, pushing out the Eagle lead to 10 at 64-54. Asheville continued to knock down shots at a blinding pace, but Corbin did the same. The sophomore Ohio native tallied eight straight points for his side as the Bulldogs charged, helping extend the margin to 17.
The Bulldogs had plenty of bite left, however.
The 17-point lead slowly dwindled. After working the lead to 14, Asheville unfurled a 9-0 spurt on the shoulders of three straight Taijon Jones treys, bringing the game within five. The sides traded scores, with a clean defensive contest by Kyle Zunic thwarted by a challenged Coty Jude three, putting Asheville on the precipice of completing the unlikely comeback.
Then, one of the most challenging spots to Winthrop in the second half proved to be its saving grace.
The Eagles had connected on fewer than half their free throw attempts in the closing 20, leaving doubt lingering in the air as Russell Jones approached the line for two tries with six seconds to play. The sophomore from Blythewood, South Carolina, calmly knocked down both. Jude’s final three-point attempt at the horn sailed left, and the Eagles survived.
“It was a flurry, a furious finish. They were making some unbelievable shots, and our guys withstood it,” Kelsey stated. “Russ stepped up and made those big free throws down the stretch, and we found a way to get a ‘W’.”
Winthrop placed five scorers in double figures, led by Corbin’s career-high 20. Corbin drained 7-of-9 from the deck, including 6-of-8 from distance. Charles Falden and Chandler Vaudrin contributed 12, while Mike Anumba and Adonis Arms added 10 apiece. The Eagles hit 42 percent (29-for-69) of their field goal attempts.
“I think I played well. I think I just took the shots that I take every day in practice and workouts, so I’m confident and my team’s confident in me shooting,” Corbin commented. “That’s the power of our team. We just have players who can spark up like that. When you stop one player, there’s another player.”
Asheville notched four double-digit scorers, led by Jones’ 20. Jones hit six triples en route to the big night. DeVon Baker added 15, with Jude pitching in 12 and Trent Stephney booking 11. The Bulldogs shot 57.7 percent (30-for-52) on the night.
The sides face off again Friday evening at Winthrop Coliseum. The game is slated to tip at 6:00, and ESPN+ will stream the contest.