Winthrop Men's Basketball Wins a Thriller

Winthrop Men's Basketball Wins a Thriller

 ROCK HILL, S.C. -- The old saying “all’s well that ends well” surely causes rolling eyes and groans.  For Winthrop on Saturday, though, it rang true.

Freshman guard Keon Johnson’s off-balance jumper banked off the backboard and found the bottom of the net, capping a crazy conclusion that gave the Eagles a 58-57 victory over visiting VMI in front of 1,589 fans in Winthrop Coliseum -- though only after a last-second attempt from VMI clanged off the rim.

Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey’s team got off to an inauspicious start, allowing VMI to start the game on an 11-0 run.  The Keydets led 13-3 at the first stoppage of play, just over four minutes into the game.  “To their credit, they banged two quick threes, and we fouled the kid shooting the three, which is a cardinal sin in basketball.  All of a sudden it’s 9-0, and then it’s 11-0.  It’s just like the air was getting sucked out of the Coliseum,” said Kelsey.  “You’re looking up and you’re like, ‘we might get beat by 90’.  We call that timeout and we tell those guys to stay focused and stay consistent and keep doing what we do.” 

Kelsey’s team stemmed that initial tide, with Eagle guard Keon Moore’s three-pointer cutting the Keydet lead to six at 18-12 with 11:48 remaining in the first half.  The home team seemed to hit a bit of a wall from there, however, hitting just five of their final 20 shots in the half.  The sledding for Winthrop was even tougher over the final 6:26 of the stanza, as only two of their 12 shots during that period found the mark.  VMI took a 37-24 lead to the intermission, outshooting their opponents by greater than 20 percent from the floor (46.9 to 26.7 percent) despite making the same number of shots from behind the arc (three) as Winthrop. 

The opening four minutes of the second half saw an increase in energy for the Eagles, resulting in their own early surge.  Winthrop went on a 13-1 run to start the period, cutting the Keydet lead to just one at 38-37.  VMI extended the lead to 47-41 on a three-pointer from QJ Peterson, but Winthrop’s outside game finally awoke on consecutive possessions.  Moore drilled back-to-back attempts from distance, evening the score at 47 with 8:19 remaining.  After trading scores over the next several minutes, the final media timeout saw the game again tied at 52, setting the stage for the wild finish.

Johnson drained a jumper and two free throws to give the Eagles a 56-53 lead, which seemed to be a reasonably comfortable margin with just 24 seconds to play.  A Johnson foul on Peterson resulted in two free throws for VMI, cutting the lead to one.  Winthrop guard Brandon Vega then committed a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, returning the ball to the Keydets.  Peterson missed a jumper, but was fouled by Eagle forward James Bourne on the rebound.  His two free throws gave the visitors a one-point advantage with ten seconds to play.

Winthrop advanced the ball into the frontcourt, then called a timeout with just six seconds showing on the clock.  It was in that timeout that Keon Johnson -- according to him, anyway -- called his own number.  “When we called timeout, I told Coach (Kelsey) to give me the ball,” said Johnson.  Added Kelsey, “When we got to the huddle, we said in our inbounds, get the ball to Keon, everybody get flat to the baseline and get out of the way, just attack and drive.  That’s what he did. (...) He’s a tough kid, and he wants the ball in big moments.”

Peterson and fellow guard Rodney Glasgow were largely neutralized in the second half for VMI (10-9, 3-3 Big South).  After a 5-for-7 effort in the first half for Glasgow, he missed all three of his attempts in the second 20 minutes.  Peterson was held to 1-for-9 shooting in the half.  Forward D.J. Covington led the Keydets with 19 points and 12 rebounds, joined in double figures by Peterson’s 16 and Glasgow’s 13.

Moore scored 18 to go with a club-high nine boards for the Eagles (10-8, 4-2), moving his squad into a three-way tie for first place in the conference’s South Division.  Johnson added 17 for Winthrop, scoring the final five points for his team over the game’s closing 53 seconds.

VMI continues on the road, traveling to UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena for a conference tilt scheduled for a 7:00pm (Eastern) tip on Tuesday.  Winthrop hosts the Radford Highlanders in Big South play at 7:00pm Wednesday.