Winthrop forward DJ Burns had 19 in Saturday's nail-biter win over Gardner-Webb. (Photo: Winthrop Athletics)
ROCK HILL, S.C. – A team who had won four league games by a total of 13 points. Two rivals separated by roughly 60 miles with a history of playing classics, no matter the venue.
Was there really another way the latest installment of Gardner-Webb and Winthrop could have ended?
“I’m not on enough blood pressure medication,” Winthrop coach Mark Prosser joked when starting his postgame conversation with writers.
Prosser’s Cardiac Eagles yet again found a way, battling back from a 10-point deficit with 10:19 remaining and surviving a better-than-hoped-for last-second look from the Runnin’ Bulldogs, escaping with a 64-62 victory Saturday at Winthrop Coliseum.
Winthrop (12-6, 5-0 Big South) struggled to find shots in the first half. The Eagles went the first 7:12 of the opening stanza without a bucket, with a DJ Burns floating hook in the lane finally breaking the seal. Despite the extended drought, the Eagles trailed just 9-5 at that point, owing largely to their own defensive intensity. Gardner-Webb (9-10, 3-3) used a Jordan Sears triple after that Burns bucket to collect its largest lead of the first half at seven.
The remainder of the opening stanza turned into the chippy, physical battle that many expect between the two regional rivals. Winthrop seized a 16-15 lead on the strength of two Mike Anumba free throws, then grew it to four on a Josh Corbin trey. Zion Williams returned the lead to the Runnin’ Bulldogs on a layup, which the visitors refused to surrender while holding the Eagles without a bucket after that Corbin make at the 8:53 mark.
The sides were involved in a minor dust-up at the half, where an inadvertent collision between players led to screaming back and forth and the assessment of double technicals. Burns was assessed one for Winthrop, with Gardner-Webb’s Ludovic Dufeal tallying the other. The Dufeal violation proved costly, as it also served as his third personal foul.
Back-to-back Winthrop buckets sliced the Gardner-Webb margin to a single, uncomfortable possession out of the interval. Lance Terry then canned a rhythm triple in transition to provide a bit more breathing room. Kareem Reid knocked home a layup to grow the aforementioned 10-point lead.
From there, it was as if Winthrop turned on the faucet to combat the frigid temperatures outside the Coliseum.
Kelton Talford made a bucket 13 seconds after Reid’s score. The slow drip started.
Pat Good – who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career on the day – and Mike Anumba canned threes. Drip, drip, drip.
Burns converted an and-one. Good converted a layup, followed by another bucket from the Eagles’ big man. Drip, drip, drip.
Then, the stream became steadier with 2:53 to play. Anumba leveled the score, then put his side ahead with two free throws. Winthrop continued to fight a battling Runnin’ Bulldog squad, finally going ahead by five with 14 seconds to play on two Good freebies.
Terry rose and splashed home a three with seven seconds left, setting up for a precarious finish. Good went to the line with a one-and-one to try to win the game for the Eagles, but his front-end try refused to fall. Gardner-Webb then raced up the court, but despite D’Maurian Williams setting himself up with a solid look and taking a shot that appeared on-line, the try harmlessly fell away at the horn.
Burns led Winthrop with 19, draining 8-of-13 looks from the deck. Hightower added 15 and seven boards, with Anumba contributing 14. Half of Anumba’s tallies came from the charity stripe, where he knocked down all but one attempt.
Terry paced the Runnin’ Bulldogs with 20, a total that led all scorers. Four of his six tries from distance found the net. Zion Williams, who has battled a finger injury in recent days, scored 11 on a 4-for-5 effort.
Winthrop Coach Mark Prosser
ON THE PHYSICALITY OF PLAY: “Our games with them are always physical, but it’s two tough, hard-nosed teams with really good players. That’s a bunch of kids that don’t wanna lose and have a hatred of losing. I thought, for the most part, we kept our cool.”
ON THE COMEBACK: “We had the opportunity again in the second half – I think we were down 10 at one point – to hang our head, to say woe is me, and to feel bad. Our kids just don’t have that in them. We made enough plays down the stretch to win the game.”
ON BEING 5-0 IN THE CONFERENCE, WITH TOTAL MARGIN OF VICTORY 17 POINTS: “It doesn’t matter if it’s one point or 21 points. The thing that it does do, I think, is make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves. You can watch our last two first halves and realize that it’s not a thing of beauty. We’re sloppy, we’re turning it over too much, we’re not going to the offensive glass enough, and we’re giving up too many offensive rebounds. It gives us the ability to keep our kids’ attention while record-wise we’re still doing okay in the league.”
ON PROLONGED FIRST-HALF DRY SPELLS: “We talked about it at halftime. What we do – when we’re doing it right – is hard to guard. I thought they were a little bit more the aggressor in the first half and took us out of a lot of things we were trying to do. We have these halves where we score 20 in the first half and 40 in the second half. That has to stop. We’re the team that scores 40 in a half. Really, I thought our defensive effort in the first half was pretty good. We’re built to score more than 24 or whatever we had at halftime.”
ON BURNS: “I’m happy with how much he’s getting the ball, because typically, good things happen. He’s a willing passer out of the post, too. We got a three from Mike Anumba, and he had a couple drop-offs to Hightower. He just garners so much attention that you have to turn your head and you tend to sorta help. The closer he catches it to the basket, the better it is. He’s been effective playing off the bounce and in quick spins. Normally, when it hits his hands, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Winthrop Forward DJ Burns
ON THE CROWD: “I felt like that was one of the best ones yet. Ever since COVID, we’ve kind of had a drop in how many people have shown up. It was just good to feed off their energy, and they were giving it right back to us. I think that had a lot to do with the energy that we had going into the end of the game.”
ON THE PHYSICALITY OF PLAY: “They try to get to the basket a lot, and that’s something that we do pretty well, too. We work on stopping ourselves from getting to the basket (in practice). We just had to to do the same here tonight, and they couldn’t stop us as much as we stopped them.”
ON THE HALFTIME SITUATION AND THE CARRYOVER EFFECT: “I really think what happened at halftime just got our guys a little extra locked in. We had a little chill vibe at first to us, and I think that lit a fire under us.”
ON WINNING CLOSE GAMES: “That’s not what we intend to do, but we have to understand that we’ve won back-to-back championships. Every time we step on the court, we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot every time. They’re gonna hit shots they don’t usually hit and they’re gonna talk their junk. We just have to be ready for that and we’re gonna have to know we’re gonna be in for a fight every time we step on the court.”
ON PAT GOOD CREATING DEFENSIVE ATTENTION: “Coming off a 31-point game (Thursday at Presbyterian), the focus was him, and that opened up a few more opportunities for me. I wasn’t getting doubled because they were trying to find him. It just worked out great for us.”
NEXT UP: Winthrop travels to the Qubein Center at High Point for a previously postponed game Monday evening. Tip time is set for 6:00. Gardner-Webb travels to take on Asheville Thursday night in the ESPNU Big South Wildcard game of the week. Tip time inside Kimmel Arena is slated for 7:00.
WINTHROP 64, GARDNER-WEBB 62
GARDNER-WEBB (9-10, 3-3 BIG SOUTH): Terry 7-12 2-3 20, D. Williams 3-8 2-2 8, Reid 3-8 0-2, Z. Williams 4-5 1-2 11, Dufeal 0-1 0-0 0, Soumaoro 0-2 0-0 0, Sears 2-8 4-4 9, L. Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Selden 2-9 1-2 6, Alexander 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-55 10-15 62.
WINTHROP (12-6, 5-0): Jones 0-4 0-0 0, Anumba 3-3 7-8 14, Good 2-5 3-6 8, Hightower 6-11 2-2 15, Burns 8-13 3-3 19, McMahon 0-1 0-0 0, Talford 1-2 1-2 3, Buggs 1-3 0-0 2, Corbin 1-3 0-0 3, Claxton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-45 16-21 64.
Halftime — Gardner-Webb 32-26. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 8-21 (Terry 4-6, D. Williams 0-3, Z. Williams 2-2, Dufeal 0-1, Soumaoro 0-1, Sears 1-5, L. Williams 0-1, Selden 1-2), Winthrop 4-15 (Jones 0-2, Anumba 1-1, Good 1-3, Hightower 1-4, McMahon 0-1, Buggs 0-1, Corbin 1-3). Fouled Out — Anumba (WU). Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 33 (Dufeal 8), Winthrop 30 (Hightower 7). Assists —Winthrop 14 (Buggs 6), Gardner-Webb 9 (D. Williams 3). Total Fouls — Gardner-Webb 21, Winthrop 19. Technical — Dufeal (GWU), Burns (WU). A —1803.
Points in the paint: Winthrop 34, Gardner-Webb 26 Points off turnovers: Winthrop 15, Gardner-Webb 9 Second-chance points: Gardner-Webb 5, Winthrop 5 Fast-break points: Winthrop 11, Gardner-Webb 5 Points per possession: Winthrop .970, Gardner-Webb .899