ROCK HILL, S.C. -- With the top team in the Southern Division of the Big South Conference coming to town, one would imagine there would be a complex game plan to prepare.
Not so, according to Winthrop forward Joab Jerome.
“We really practiced hard and came back and got back to the basics and got the win,” said Jerome. The win to which Jerome referred came in the form of a 75-65 victory over South-leading Coastal Carolina Wednesday night at Winthrop Coliseum.
The visiting Chanticleers (16-11, 9-4 Big South) certainly started the game in fine shape, shooting 65 percent (13-of-20) in the first half. Even with that torrid shooting pace, however, Coastal Carolina could not easily separate themselves from the Eagles (15-11, 8-5). Winthrop themselves shot 46.2 percent (12-of-25) in the stanza, never trailing by greater than four points until a Warren Gillis three-pointer gave Coastal a 34-29 lead with 46 seconds left in the half. A Josh Davenport bucket brought the home team to within five at 36-31 as the first half came to a close. The half featured five ties and ten lead changes.
The second half saw much of the same, as the teams traded baskets for nearly half of the second 20 minutes. A Michel Enanga jumper gave Coastal the lead at 53-51 with 10:30 to play. This shot would be notable, as it would be the last field goal the Chanticleers converted for nearly ten minutes.
As much as the Chanticleers struggled from the floor, the constant sound of whistles also provided a stop-and-go feel similar to rush-hour traffic in a large city. The teams were whistled for 49 total fouls, resulting in 59 attempts from the charity stripe. “The thing that I thought, for us...we got in serious foul trouble. We were playing with a limited budget,” said Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis. “We had (guard) Josh (Cameron) with four, Michel (Enanga) with four and (forward) Badou (Diagne) with four, so we seemed to have critical players [...] Both teams fouled, but ours were coming from the same people. To their credit, they did not get in serious foul trouble, personnel-wise. We did.” Enanga would foul out with 8:54 to play.
Winthrop managed to capitalize on the Coastal cold snap after two free throws from Elijah Wilson tied the score at 57 with 7:10 to play. The Eagles closed the game on an 18-8 run, largely icing the game from the line. Before the run of free throws, though, a steal of an inbound pass by forward Larry Brown and subsequent layup extended the lead to seven. Brown notched a double-double in the contest, scoring 12 points to go with 11 rebounds.
“We’re playing with a lot of momentum, and I feel like since that started, Larry has been more consistent for us,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey of Brown. “There are not a lot of guys that have the capacity to be a difference-maker on the defensive end, but he has that. He’s always fighting that urge to do a little bit too much, or to gamble, or to come out of the shell of our defensive principles. It’s almost like that play he made late in the game where he stole the inbounds and laid the ball up, and that was a big nail in the coffin. That definitely wasn’t in our
defensive system,” Kelsey said with a slight laugh. You can listen to both coaches press conferences here...
AUDIO: Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis: http://chirb.it/LyJIGD
AUDIO: Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey: http://chirb.it/D6C9dr
Regarding the basics of which Jerome spoke earlier, the Eagles were successful in many of the areas in which Kelsey preaches consistency. Winthrop converted on 22-of-27 free throw attempts (81.5 percent), including a blistering 86.4 percent (19-of-22) performance in the second half. The Eagles outrebounded a considerably larger Chanticleer club 32-26, including a 13-8 edge on the offensive boards. The second-leading three-point defense in the league in conference games -- Winthrop allowed a meager 33.2 percent of opposing shooters to hit threes coming into this contest -- surrended just three of 14 attempts from distance (21.4 percent) to Coastal.
Kelsey also glowingly spoke of the role his assistants played in his team’s preparation and success. “Yesterday, the day before the biggest game of the year for us, Coastal at home, playing for first place, I was on the road recruiting. I wasn’t here yesterday. That’s a tribute to the caliber of staff that I have. I have phenomenal coaches. I have guys that are all gonna be head coaches. Those guys are really good, and they don’t get enough credit.”
The Winthrop students also came out in full force to welcome the Eagles’ biggest on-court rival. “The students were off the charts. That’s the best way I can describe it. They were phenomenal. There’s a big possession late in the game and I’m over there waving my hands like a mad man, and they just collectively rose to their feet and we’re down there defending right in front of them and you could just see it. It just injected energy, courage and toughness into our guys. That’s what a sixth man does.”
Brown joined each of Winthrop’s starters in double digits. Guard Andre Smith scored 16, with guard Keon Moore adding 13, Jerome contributing 11 and guard Keon Johnson finishing with 10. Coastal’s Warren Gillis led all scorers with 25 points, coming largely from a 14-for-15 performance from the free throw line. Guard Elijah Wilson tallied 17 for the Chanticleers.
The victory gave the Eagles a season sweep over the Chanticleers and pulled Winthrop to within a game of Coastal Carolina for first place in the division, along with Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville. Winthrop travels to Gardner-Webb’s Paul Porter Arena on Saturday night in Big South action. The game is scheduled for a 7:00 pm (Eastern) tip-off. Coastal Carolina travels to UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena for a 2:00 contest on Saturday.
by Brian Wilmer, BIg South Reporter, @SportsMatters