Updated: Nov 14, 2021
Pat Good scored 20 points in Winthrop's Saturday victory. (Photo: Winthrop Athletics)
ROCK HILL, S.C. – Big days produce big games.
Winthrop trailed Mercer by nine points with 51 seconds remaining in regulation Saturday. Some fans even started to leave. The Eagles saved the best for last, though.
The Eagles stunned their Homecoming crowd – and the visiting Bears – by scoring 10 of the final 11 points in regulation to force overtime. Winthrop then held off Mercer in the extra period, capturing an 88-85 win.
“Really good players made really big plays,” said Winthrop coach Mark Prosser of the late-game comeback. “Preparing so much in the gym – to find yourself hit an important three in that moment. We watched Patrick Good, unfortunately, do it to us several times as an opponent (with Good at East Tennessee State and Prosser at Western Carolina). To see him do it wearing our uniform was a lot of fun, too. They’re just such a good group of kids.
“The last minute, I watched just like y’all did, sort of in awe.”
Mercer (0-2) dominated much of the opening 20, using a switching, attacking defense to induce multiple prolonged icy stretches from the Eagles. The Bears got 30 of their 38 first half points from guard Neftali Alvarez and forward Felipe Haase. Alvarez tallied 15 on 6-of-8 shooting, shaking off attempts from Winthrop defensive stoppers Chase Claxton and Mike Anumba to hold him in check. Haase took advantage of late switches by the Winthrop defense to equal Alvarez’s 15 on a 5-for-7 effort.
Winthrop (2-0) battled both an active Bear defense and two early fouls from DJ Burns to shoot 37 percent in the opening 20. The Eagles missed their final seven shots of the period following an earlier 1-for-10 string. Cory Hightower’s 11-point effort in the stanza kept the Eagles in the game, despite a 24-12 advantage for the visitors in the paint. Mercer closed the half on an 11-2 run, taking a 38-27 lead to the interval.
“He told us at halftime to just be us,” Winthrop guard Russell Jones said of his coach’s halftime instructions. “He just told us to buckle down, play our game, and hopefully we would come out victorious.”
Haase started the second period on a personal 7-0 run, dropping back-to-back triples. The Bear lead grew as high as 13 before the Eagles awakened. Burns converted on a layup, then back-to-back steals by Jones led to back-to-back buckets, cutting the advantage to three.
“I knew Alvarez was a great player and I wanted my turn on him all game from the jump,” Jones said. “I knew I was gonna have to be me. Those steals, that was just a lot of hunger built up. It’s an amazing feeling, for real, to be able to just change the game and to come in and do a lot to help this team win is an amazing feeling.”
Mercer gradually worked its lead back to nine on the strength of consecutive Haase buckets.
“First and foremost, (Haase) is a really good player. He’s an all-conference Southern Conference player on a team that’s really deep and has a lot of good players back,” Prosser said of Haase. “When he plays that way, he doesn’t surprise me. He’s a high-major transfer and very highly thought-of. He’s a matchup problem, with his size, his skill level, his ability to shoot and his ability to pass.
“Did we carry out exactly the things on every possession that we wanted to? Probably not. At the end of the day, you’re gonna have really good players have really good individual efforts, and that’s fine. If you show the resiliency to play through something like that, that’s even more fun.”
Following an Alvarez layup that swelled the margin back to eight, Jones and Burns again teamed up, dropping back-to-back buckets that reduced the advantage to a single possession and compelled a Mercer stoppage at the six-minute mark. The Eagles had a look to tie but could not knock it down. A Haase triple on the other end returned the lead to a half-dozen.
A quick 7-0 Winthrop run erased the lead for the first time in the second half, as a Pat Good triple gave the Eagles a 70-69 lead with 3:08 to play. Mercer then countered with back-to-back triples from its two stars, with a Haase connection returning the lead to his team and Alvarez pushing it to five. Haase knocked down another on the ensuing possession to tally his 40th point.
Winthrop then closed on a 10-1 run, using suffocating defense to force multiple Mercer turnovers. The final miscue came on a pass stolen by Sincere McMahon, who fed Good for a game-tying three. Mercer had two closing looks at the basket but could nudge neither to fall, drawing overtime at an 80-all tie.
“Throughout the whole game, I felt like our backs were against the wall,” Good said. “They hit us early, they hit us again, they hit us again. We kept getting up and we kept responding.”
“Those are the shots that I work on, so it wasn’t out of character. My teammates trust me and the coaching staff trusts me, as well,” Good said of the final shot. “This is what I came here to do. I didn’t come here for anything else but to win basketball games and to win a championship.”
Did he know the shot was going to fall, though?
“I knew it was going in once we got the ball back (on the steal),” Good said. “When you put the preparation in, you expect results to happen. It’s not really surprising to me.”
Good knocked down a jumper to give his side the lead early in extra time, followed by back-to-back Mercer buckets that again gave the Bears the lead. Burns then drew the game level at 84 with a jumper, and a Good free throw gave the Eagles a one-point lead. After Haase tied the game with a free throw at the other end, the stage was set for Cory Hightower. The Western Carolina transfer took a feed from Drew Buggs at the top of the key, then drained the triple that provided the final margin.
Good’s 20 points paced all Winthrop scorers. The grad transfer knocked down 7-of-11 tries from the field. Three other Eagles finished in doubles, with Hightower tallying 17. Burns added 16 and Jones 15. Winthrop shot 51.6 percent for the game, buoyed by a 62.5 percent second half effort.
Haase led all scorers with 41 points for the Bears. Alvarez added 28. The pair hit 24-of-36 attempts from the field, including 9-of-13 from distance. Mercer shot 50 percent (32-for-64) from the field.
Both teams resume play Tuesday. Mercer returns to Hawkins Arena to host Life University. That game is slated for a 7:00 start. Winthrop travels to Middle Tennessee’s Murphy Center for an 8:00 (Eastern) date with the Blue Raiders.
Inside the Numbers
You've read the story -- let's go inside the numbers!
An appropriate Twitter handle: Russell Jones (@Ballerruss_) lived up to his Twitter handle Saturday. The point guard gave his team an immediate burst of energy, shutting down Mercer star Neftali Alvarez and producing instant offense on the other end of the floor. Jones tallied 15 points in 25 minutes of game action, serving as his club's emotional leader for much of the contest. Jones is a fit for this team and coaching staff in every way possible. He mentioned having Prosser's back and Prosser having his. Much is made of Russ' height, but he plays so much bigger, and his team needed every ounce of what he provided them today.
Come together: The Eagles had several sequences -- especially in the first half -- where the ball seemed to "stick" on offense and players struggled to move without the ball. That obviously became much less of a concern in the closing 20, as the Eagles dished dimes on 10 of 20 makes. Prosser remarked that it was good to get those types of things on film, mentioning that he had a lot of experienced guys, despite their not necessarily being experienced together.
Know your limitations: Haase and Alvarez combined for 69 of Mercer's 85. Prosser expressed his concern after the game with those totals, but acknowledged that certain players would have big games against the team from time to time. He also acknowledged that it's more fun when you win in spite of those huge efforts. The Bears shot just 8-for-28 (29 percent) aside from the two stars.
Free throws are free: Neither team should be happy with its effort from the line. Mercer hit just 12-of-22 (55 percent), while Winthrop hit 47 percent (8-for-17).
And finally, the Hustle Stats:
Points in the paint: Mercer 44, Winthrop 36
Points off turnovers: Winthrop 27, Mercer 16
Second-chance points: Mercer 10, Winthrop 4
Fast-break points: Winthrop 23, Mercer 12
WINTHROP 88, MERCER 85 (OT)
MERCER (0-2): Haase 13-18 8-11 41, Glisson 3-9 0-1 6, Alvarez 11-18 4-10 28, Johnson 1-4 0-0 2, Walker 2-5 0-0 4, Robertson 2-7 0-0 4, Grant 0-1 0-0 0, Tucker 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 32-64 12-22 85.
WINTHROP (2-0): Talford 0-1 0-0 0, Hightower 6-13 2-2 17, Anumba 3-9 0-0 7, Buggs 2-2 0-0 5, Corbin 1-3 0-0 2, Jones 5-9 2-3 15, Good 7-11 1-3 20, Burns 8-11 0-1 16, Claxton 0-0 1-6 1, McMahon 1-4 2-2 5. Totals 33-64 8-17 88.
Halftime — Mercer 38-27. 3-Point Goals—Winthrop 14-30 (Anumba 1-5, Hightower 3-6, Jones 3-5, McMahon 1-3, Good 5-9, Buggs 1-1, Corbin 0-1), Mercer 9-23 (Robertson 0-2, Alvarez 2-4, Haase 7-9, Walker 0-1, Tucker 0-1, Johnson 0-3, Glisson 0-3). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds — Mercer 40 (Haase 10), Winthrop 36 (Burns 8). Assists —Winthrop 17 (Buggs 6), Mercer 16 (Alvarez 6). Total Fouls —Winthrop 19, Mercer 17. Technical — TEAM (Winthrop). A —1,778.
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