CHARLOTTE – It’s been a challenging couple of weeks for Radford, as anyone who follows the program knows. It seemed only fitting, then, that the third-seeded Highlanders would take the floor for Friday night’s Big South quarterfinals against another team that has battled different adversity in sixth-seeded Winthrop.
The Eagles, 12 months removed from playing for a Big South title, have three players out for the year due to injury, but played Radford to a one-possession game almost a month ago in the Dedmon Center. Just seven Winthrop players saw minutes in the semifinal contest.
The shorthanded side took the lead 29 seconds into the contest, but would never again lead. Radford got career-highs from Josiah Jeffers and Shaquan Jules and led by as many as 16 in a 78-69 victory over Winthrop at Bojangles’ Coliseum Friday night.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys,” Radford acting head coach Shane Nichols said. “I thought they did a good job of really handling adversity. We told them they were gonna go on runs and we had to make sure to cut them short and really get back to playing good basketball like we’ve been throughout this whole year.”
Radford (19-13) maintained a hot shooting hand almost from the opening tip. The Highlanders hit 51.5 percent of their first-half tries, knocking down five triples. Radford enjoyed a 12-point lead at the interval, buoyed by a defensive effort that saw the Highlanders limit Winthrop to just 42.3 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from distance in the period.
Winthrop (15-17) charged back in the second period, putting home a strong 58.3 percent (14-for-24) of its second-half tries. The Eagles were unable to capitalize from distance or the line, however, hitting just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc and 9-of-18 from the line in the second stanza.
“Our kids fought for the last several months,” Winthrop coach Mark Prosser said. “I’m proud of our kids. They’re wonderful people. It was my job to have us ready today for this tournament, and I didn’t do that at a good enough level. We didn’t perform well enough today. Give a ton of credit to Radford. Unfortunately, we had to see those guys in the first round, and they were better than us today.
“This is not what Winthrop is going to be about. We need to do – I need to do – a better job of making sure we don’t have too many more of these press conferences like the one we’re having today or the one we had at the end of last year.”
The Highlanders’ recent adversity has forced the club to rely even more closely on itself, a development Jeffers addressed in postgame comments Friday.
“We’ve just been taking it one day at a time, focusing in practice, working hard, and getting each other better,” Jeffers said. “We’ve been emphasizing the importance of possessions, sharing the ball, and keeping the energy high.” Jeffers embodied those comments in his efforts, turning in seven assists to just two turnovers to accompany his career-best points total.
“It’s great to see seniors step up when you need them,” Nichols said. “This is probably their best game of the year, and it happened on the same night for (Jules and Jeffers). To play well in the tournament, it’s just what you want when you’re a college athlete, to go out as a senior playing well. I’m proud of them, but at the same time, we’ve still got some work to do.”
Jeffers scored 21 to pace all Highlander scorers, knocking down 8-of-13 tries from the field. Jules hit 8-of-11 to add 20 while recording his own career-high. DaQuan Smith contributed 16, connecting on 6-of-10 tries from the field and dishing out three helpers. Radford shot 53.6 percent (30-for-56) from the field, adding eight connections from distance on 19 attempts (42.1 percent).
Kasen Harrison notched his own career-high for Winthrop, scoring 26 on 9-for-11 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 from the line. All-Big South performer Kelton Talford recorded his own double-double, scoring 20 points and securing 12 boards. Winthrop shot 50 percent from the deck, despite hitting just 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) from beyond the arc. Winthrop hit 14-of-25 from the charity stripe, good for 53.8 percent.
Radford now sets its sights on seventh-seeded Campbell in Saturday’s second semifinal. The Highlanders and Camels squared off one week ago in Radford’s Dedmon Center, with Radford grabbing a 67-65 victory. The Highlanders shot just 38.9 percent in the win, versus Campbell’s 46.2 percent. The semifinal tilt is set for a 2:00 (Eastern) tip from Bojangles’ Coliseum, with streaming available via ESPN+.