Those 14 seconds, however, were among the most exciting the Big South Conference has produced all year, as Smith’s Winthrop club defeated top-seeded High Point 62-60 in Big South Tournament quarterfinal action.
After Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one, High Point’s Adam Weary drove the lane and drained a jumper -- on a virtually identical play to the one on which he beat Winthrop in February -- to give his team a 60-59 lead. Smith then raced up the floor and drained a contested three from well beyond the arc to put his team ahead 62-60. A review of the monitor placed a half-second back on the clock, though High Point was unable to get a final shot before the horn sounded.
“After that free throw I felt really bad, because I felt like I let my team down. I really just wanted to get it back on defense. Once they scored, I felt like I let my team down really bad,” said Smith of the final few seconds. “Just getting that shot off was really important. I didn’t know how I was gonna get it off, and I really don’t know how it went in, still. The most important thing was getting a good shot off, and it went in.”
Smith admitted after the game that he saw the rim prior to the shot, but did not see the rim afterwards, and did not see the shot fall.
The game was truly a tale of two halves, as the teams combined to hit just 17-of-52 shots in the first half. Both teams put forth a suffocating defensive effort that greatly reduced the offensive comfort level. Just three of the 15 combined three-point attempts found the net in the first stanza. That all changed in the second half, as the offenses found the sledding considerably easier. “There’s times we get stagnant, and these guys, they’re extremely coachable, we make the adjustment in the huddle and go out and execute the next possession,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. Kelsey’s Eagles hit 61.5 percent of their shots (16-for-26) in the second half, compared to High Point’s 56.5 percent (13-for-23).
For as great of a game as this was, the focus remained on that final sequence, even after the buzzer sounded. “It just wasn’t meant to be. The guys did enough to win, just unfortunately, they heaved in a shot. Unfortunately, it just didn’t bounce our way,” said High Point coach Scott Cherry. “We were close enough to the shot. Just give them credit for putting it in.” Forward John Brown added, “It’s a breath-taker. There’s nothing you can do about it once it leaves his hands. It is what it is, then. I didn’t feel like we got outplayed. I felt it was a good game. I noticed a couple of my teammates were upset, but hey, it was the last shot. You can’t do anything about it.”
EXTRA: Listen to both teams’ postgame press conferences:
Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey, Keon Moore and Andre Smith (10:11): http://chirb.it/OMw8K5
High Point’s Scott Cherry and John Brown (3:36): http://chirb.it/qAMEnN
Winthrop’s Keon Moore led all scorers with 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Smith added 12. High Point’s John Brown was the only double-digit scorer for his team, underscoring the tremendous defensive effort on both sides. Brown finished with 17.
The Eagles move to 19-12 and await the winner of the second quarterfinal between Radford and UNC Asheville. That game is set for a noon tip-off on Saturday here in Conway. High Point falls to 16-14, but will represent the Big South Conference in the National Invitation Tournament.
Kelsey spoke a familiar refrain after the game.
“I’m proud of, as always, the resolve that our young men showed in the face of adversity and found a way to get it done,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey.