Photo: Winthrop Athletics
ROCK HILL, S.C. – There are many murals and banners around the Winthrop Coliseum celebrating past Eagle basketball triumphs. Wednesday night’s game against Hartford won’t be depicted in one of those any time soon.
Still, Winthrop found a way, overcoming a feisty Hartford defense and occasional miscues to secure an 82-75 victory over the visiting Hawks in front of 950 fans at the Coliseum.
“Obviously, we’re happy to come out with a win. That’s the most important thing,” Winthrop guard Drew Buggs said after the game. “We just felt that we didn’t play to the level that we’re capable of playing. We just felt that we came out a little flat and really sluggish and didn’t execute to the level we’re capable of.”
To be fair, much of that sluggishness could be attributed to the effort offered by the visitors.
The sides battled to a back-and-forth affair nearly from the opening tip. Winthrop (4-3) hit back-to-back buckets to start the contest, followed closely by a 6-0 Hartford burst. The Eagles and Hawks worked to create separation from there, with no lead larger than seven over the first 20. Hartford (0-7) fought through a deficit to reclaim the advantage on two Austin Williams free throws at the 4:23 mark of the first half but would keep that lead for just 21 more seconds. Pat Good sank a triple to retake the lead, which Winthrop held en route to a 42-38 margin at the interval.
Winthrop again struggled to create separation as the second half unfolded. Hartford’s defense kept the floor crowded, preventing the Eagles from extending the lead past seven through the first 12-plus minutes. The sides tussled on both ends of the floor, with Winthrop eventually getting the lead to eight on three separate occasions. David Shriver knocked down a trey at the 4:10 mark to draw Hartford within four, with a Hunter Marks bucket countering two Winthrop free throws. Marks then converted a free throw to slice it to three with three minutes remaining.
Hartford would not score again following the and-one, however. Winthrop clamped down on the Hawks, limiting the side without a make on its final 11 tries. Hartford had one particular frenetic sequence at the end of the game in which it tried – and missed – six shots in 34 seconds in an attempt to draw closer.
“When you take a lot of long shots, a lot of contested, rushed shots, you’re opening yourself up to long rebounds. I’d have to see it on film to see who the culprit was,” Winthrop coach Mark Prosser said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, in those moments, toughness plays. It’s just who wants it more.
“We have the ability, because of how durable and how versatile (forward) Chase (Claxton) and Mike (Anumba) and Cory (Hightower) are, you can go and basically play five guards. Those guys being able to be on the floor at the end, being able to talk and switch and have basically five guards out there – we just started doing that a little bit and we’ve gotta get better at that, but it was built for a moment like that and they handled it really well for not having practiced it a ton.”
Williams scored 21 to pace the visiting Hawks, despite being held to just four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the second 20. Shriver added 20 on 7-for-15 shooting (6-for-14 from distance). Moses Flowers added 15, knocking down 6-of-12. The Hawks made 28-of-66 tries from the deck (42 percent) but were held to 36.1 percent in the second half.
Winthrop shot 52.8 percent (28-for-53) in the victory. Hightower led the Eagles with 19 points, with guard Drew Buggs tallying 17 on 6-for-10 from the deck. DJ Burns added 12 in 18 minutes of play.
Both teams return to action over the weekend. Winthrop travels to Coastal Carolina for a 1:00 (Eastern) tip Saturday. Hartford travels to St. Francis Brooklyn Sunday. That game is slated for a 2:00 tip.