ROCK HILL, S.C. -- The second of two free throws by UNC Asheville’s Jaron Lane touched the bottom of the net, giving the Bulldogs a 93-83 lead with 1:24 left to play. It was almost as if that free throw was an eject button, sending some of the fans in attendance at Winthrop Coliseum out of their seats and toward the exits.
Unfortunately for those fans, they missed a finish for the ages.
The homestanding Eagles went on an 11-1 run over that final minute-plus, getting three-pointers from Joab Jerome, Keon Johnson and the eventual equalizer from Keon Moore with :00.3 remaining in regulation. Moore’s bullseye from the corner sent the game to overtime tied at 94.
From there, Winthrop dominated the extra period, taking home a 107-100 victory that sent Moore into the student section to dole out high-fives and handshakes.
“This one will test you. This is a gut check,” said UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt. “The only thing that would make this a tougher loss was if this one was in the tournament. The only way this one gets tougher is if it’s a season-ending loss, because that is tough.” McDevitt continued regarding that final stretch, saying, “We play decent in the last three minutes and we win. We didn’t do the job. We just didn’t do the job.”
Despite Winthrop falling behind 14-4 to start the game, the Eagles went on a 20-9 run to take the lead at 24-23. The lead eventually swelled to 12 at 43-31 with 5:11 remaining in the half. Asheville managed to trail by just six at the break, however, having cut the margin to 53-47. Freshman Bulldog guard Andrew Rowsey dominated the first half, scoring 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting (5-of-7 from three point range).
Then came the craziness.
Asheville enjoyed a quick burst out of the locker room, making a 6-0 run to tie the game at 53 in the first two minutes. The two teams traded medium-sized leads and ties before Asheville started to pull away midway through the second half. UNCA went on a 17-6 run to take an 84-73 lead with 8:20 to play. Asheville enjoyed four separate 11-point leads over the last 8:20 of regulation, with one of those leads coming after a D.J. Cunningham free throw with 3:27 remaining.
The aforementioned Winthrop run sliced the Asheville advantage to just 94-91 after a Keon Johnson three pointer splashed the strings with 39 seconds to go in regulation. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey chose not to foul on the ensuing possession, instead entrusting his tired and beleaguered defense to get the most important stop of the game. Rowsey’s look from just beyond the three-point arc clanged off the rim, with the rebound falling to Johnson. Johnson looked up the floor to Moore, who sent the game to the overtime period.
Kelsey spoke after the game of the decision not to foul. “We wanted to get a steal in the backcourt. We didn’t want to foul. [...] If it didn’t work, I’d look like the dumbest coach in the United States of America. For some reason, my gut told me -- I started looking at the board, and I thought, you know what, let’s get a [...] I just thought maybe they’d shoot a little bit early.” Kelsey also commented on the events after the Bulldog miss, saying, “Lady Luck was on our side, because it was a quick carom off the rim, it happened to come directly to our point guard, so the stars were aligned in the right way. We had to have a lot of luck to go our way. I just said, hey, let’s try to get a stop, get the ball back and anything can happen.” You can listen to both coaches press conferences here..
AUDIO: UNC Asheville head coach Nick McDevitt: http://chirb.it/NDnv6w
AUDIO: Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey: http://chirb.it/LLJv3L
Winthrop forced 21 turnovers by the Bulldogs, including six by Rowsey. The Eagles converted those turnovers into 38 points. Conversely, Winthrop turned the ball over just 11 times.
Rowsey led all scorers with 37 for the visiting Bulldogs. He was joined in double digits by Jaron Lane with 22, Corey Littlejohn and D.J. Cunningham with 11 and Sam Hughes with 10. Johnson paced Winthrop with 27, while Moore added 22. The two shot a combined 16-for-31 from the floor, converting 8-of-14 total shots from distance. Andre Smith and Joab Jerome scored 17 apiece, while Josh Davenport poured in 12 of Winthrop’s 24 points off the bench in 17 minutes of play.
UNC Asheville (15-14, 9-6 Big South) and Winthrop (16-12, 9-6 Big South) now find themselves tied in the Big South’s Southern Division, one game behind current leaders Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb. Asheville returns home to close the season against Gardner-Webb at Kimmel Arena on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Winthrop closes their season with Senior Day against Presbyterian at Winthrop Coliseum on Saturday. The contest is scheduled for a 4:00 p.m. tip-off.
by Brian Wilmer, Big South Reporter, @SportsMatters