Winthrop Holds Off USC Upstate, 79-78

Winthrop guard Keon Johnson recorded a career-high 32 points Tuesday night.  (winthropeagles.com)

Brian Wilmer

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – USC Upstate coach Eddie Payne knows he has a young team that is continuing to develop, and that wins will come with time.  They very nearly had one on Tuesday night.

Winthrop and Payne’s Spartans played a frenzied, back-and-forth affair throughout, and the visiting Eagles got 54 combined points from guards Keon Johnson and Jimmy Gavin to pull out a 79-78 victory in the Hodge Center.

“Everything being said, I think we had a good effort that came up just a little bit short,” said Payne after the game.  “If we play hard and compete like that, we’ll have a chance to win some games.”

Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey acknowledged the challenge his team had faced after the game, as well. 

“They were the aggressors.  They took the fight to us in the first half, and you’ve got to credit them for that.  I think our guys eventually started to meet the intensity with which they played, and at the end of the day, these guys (Johnson and Gavin) made plays down the stretch to win the game,” said Kelsey. 

(BONUS:  To hear postgame press conference audio, click any of the media players at the end of this article.)

The normally hot-shooting Eagles hit just one of their first 17 tries from three-point range, but still led by as many as seven points with seven minutes remaining in the first half.  A Marvin Smith jumper punctuated a four-minute burst in which the Spartans held Winthrop to just a Duby Okeke dunk, giving Upstate a 28-27 lead.  The Spartans led by four at the half, despite Winthrop’s shooting woes from distance.

Upstate (0-5) started the second half just as quickly as they ended the first, scoring eight of the half’s first 12 points before Winthrop called a time out.  The break may not have provided the immediate boost the Eagles sought, but the tide certainly turned over the next few minutes.

“I credit these guys, at that point, because the chips were down.  They went up nine in their building, they had some juice to them, they had some momentum, the crowd was getting into it.  At that media timeout – it wasn’t me, it was these guys – they banded together and just said the buck stops here.  We’ve got to start getting stops,” said Kelsey.

After a Xavier Cooks foul – and subsequent technical – the Upstate lead had indeed swelled to nine.  Winthrop began to chip away at that lead, before a 9-2 Eagle run gave them their first advantage of the second half.  Winthrop claimed a nine-point advantage of their own, after a Johnson three splashed the nets with 5:37 remaining.  Fitting of the night, though, Upstate was by no means finished. 

A subsequent 9-2 Upstate run sliced the lead to 70-68 with 2:27 to play, and when Johnson drained a triple on the next possession and converted free throws on the one following, the garnet-and-gold clad fans who made the trip from Rock Hill to support their Eagles thought they could breathe a bit easier.  That thought was quickly squashed by a final Upstate rally.

Smith dropped a three-ball with four seconds remaining, punctuating a 7-0 Spartan run.  Gavin was fouled on the inbounds pass and turned in two of his nine makes from the line to push the margin to four.  Upstate’s Josh Cuthbertson swished a three-pointer as time expired, providing an appropriate end to an action-filled evening.

“I’d say that was an improved performance from what we’ve been seeing,” said Payne. 

Johnson and Gavin provided much of the offensive firepower for the Eagles, converting  13-of-27 shots and combining for 54 points.  Johnson scored a career-high 32 on the night, with Gavin joining him in double figures with 22.  Forward Duby Okeke notched a career-high 10 boards and tied a career-high in blocking five shots.  Winthrop took 31 free throws on the night, connecting on 25.

Upstate placed four players in double digits, including three with career highs.  Cuthbertson and Deion Holmes dropped 20 apiece, with forward Jacob Schulte (13) joining the group notching career bests.  Smith scored 14 for the Spartans.    

Winthrop travels to NC State Friday night.  That game is scheduled for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip.  The Eagles will then begin Big South Conference play at Charleston Southern next Wednesday night.  Upstate will host Georgia Southern in the Palmetto State Shootout on Friday.  That game is scheduled for a 5:00 start.
WINTHROP (4-0): Cooks 1-5 0-0 2, Price 2-4 2-2 6, Johnson 7-12 14-16 32, Broman 1-5 0-0 3, Gavin 6-15 9-11 22, Okeke 2-3 0-2 4, Perkins 4-12 0-0 8, Pickett 0-0 0-0 0, Poole 0-0 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Davenport 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-58 25-31 79.
USC UPSTATE (0-5): Smith 3-8 7-10 14, Cuthbertson 7-10 2-2 20, Schulte 5-9 3-6 13, Cunningham 2-9 2-2 7, Holmes 6-14 5-7 20, Span 1-1 0-0 2, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Whittington 1-8 0-0 2, Moore 0-1 0-0 0, Buchanan 0-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-62 19-27 78.
Halftime—Upstate 33-29. 3-Point Goals—Winthrop 6-24 (Cooks 0-1, Johnson 4-7, Broman 1-5, Gavin 1-6, Perkins 0-4, Davenport 0-1), Upstate 9-17 (Smith 1-1, Cuthbertson 4-5, Cunningham 1-5, Holmes 3-5, Thomas 0-1). Fouled Out—Price. Rebounds—Winthrop 43 (Okeke 10), Upstate 34 (Smith 7). Assists—Winthrop 11 (Gavin 4), Upstate 15 (Cuthbertson 7)Total Fouls—Winthrop 22, Upstate 24Technical—CooksA—571.


Fordham Sprints Past Fairleigh Dickinson, 85-62

Joseph Chartouny was one of two Fordham Rams to lead the team with 15 points on Saturday.  (fordhamsports.com)

When Jeff Neubauer took over as head coach at Fordham, he knew exactly what challenges were awaiting him. Neubauer's new team was in need of a culture change and an infusion of energy. 

Fordham rolled past Fairleigh Dickinson today with an impressive 85-62 win at Rose Hill Gym. The Rams received 15 points each from Christian Sengfelder and Joseph Chartouny to lead the way. Earl Potts Jr. contributed 15 points for the Knights.

Fairleigh Dickinson struggled throughout the first half with mental errors which resulted in personal fouls and turnovers. It took Fordham a while; however, they eventually began to capitalize on the mistakes of the Knights. The Rams shot 9 for 25 from the three-point line to keep Fairleigh Dickinson in their rear-view mirror the rest of the way. 

It's early in the 2015-16 season; however, it's clear that Neubauer's message is getting through to his team and its fan base. 

"We are getting better," said Neubauer after the game. "We still have a long, long way to go. Our guys are developing a defensive mindset."

Fordham's defense proved to be the difference-maker in what was, at times, a tough game to watch offensively. The Rams were bullish today on defense. Fairleigh Dickinson turned the ball over 22 times, Fordham capitalized off those mistakes for 26 points. Fordham has clearly bought into Neubauer's defensive philosophy, and it's shown on the court.

"I love what our guys are giving us." Neubaer said afterwards, "Our effort from day one, I've been here for seven and a half months, the effort of this team has been absolutely terrific. These guys are playing their tails off and i think you saw it out there today. The effort has been what every coach wants and so we're going to improve on a lot of things; it'll be hard to improve effort-wise, because we are getting what we asked for."

And Ones
Fordham senior forward Ryan Rhoomes sat for most of the first half after picking up his second foul. Neubauer turned to Ryan Canty for his first big-time minutes of the season. Canty delivered for the Rams with nine of his 12 points coming in the first half. It's been a long road back for Canty, he missed all of last season due to injury.

"When I first went in, I was just so happy to be out there." a very happy Canty said after the game, "The whole year for me has been up and down with back surgery and everything that's happened. When I got in there, I just knew I was going to have that opportunity to get in so I knew I needed to give my all. Thankfully things went my way those few possessions, and I'll just look to earn more playing time, I guess."

"I told our team after the game that what Ryan Canty did tonight has to exemplify who we are as a team." said Neubauer, "Because he didn't get a single minute in our game Tuesday night and he just responded with the mentality of I can't wait to help my team... he was terrific tonight, part of it was because Ryan Rhoomes was in foul trouble and Canty got his opportunity and was exceptional."

What's Next?
Fordham (2-1) is back at Rose Hill Gym, Tuesday night, to host Colgate. It's important the Rams don't overlook the Raiders, with big local games coming up against Manhattan and St. John's. Fairleigh Dickinson (1-3) will stay on the road to face Delaware, Tuesday night.