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Winthrop rights the ship, turns away Charleston Southern

Winthrop forward Cory Hightower scored 19 points to lead the Eagles' victorious effort Wednesday. (Photo: Winthrop Athletics)

ROCK HILL, S.C. – Now that’s more like it – assuming you’re a Winthrop fan, that is.

Coming off a highly-uncharacteristic stretch in which the Eagles had lost four of their last five, Winthrop needed something – anything – to get itself back to the standard the program has enjoyed for years. On the other bench, Charleston Southern sat on a three-game losing streak of its own. Despite the Bucs having already won more league games than they did last season, they also needed a jolt.

Oh – and there’s the matter of Charleston Southern having won once in Winthrop Coliseum – ever – in 15 games there under their former-Winthrop assistant head coach, Barclay Radebaugh.

After 20 minutes, many questions remained unanswered. Charleston Southern had just shot 61.5 percent in the first half and sunk 70 percent of its three-point tries, but still trailed by a point at the interval.

Then, the second half happened.

Winthrop held Charleston Southern to half as many made field goals as it collected in the prior half, using a 15-5 burst out of the locker room to help spur a 76-64 victory before an announced attendance of 1,118 at Winthrop Coliseum.

Was the result more like “Winthrop basketball”?

“I think so. I don’t think we’ve consciously gotten away from that. Maybe it hasn’t looked like that,” Winthrop coach Mark Prosser said after the game. “That game was close. They’re all gonna be close. Gardner-Webb (Saturday) was close. The vast majority of our games have been.

“I think we’re a better version of ourselves when we take care of the ball. We’re a better version of ourselves when we share the ball. I thought – especially offensively – we did that tonight. I thought that in the second half, we were hard to play against defensively. We need much more of that moving forward.”

To Prosser’s point, his Eagles shot fine in the second half – they hit 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from the floor and 5-of-10 from distance – but the first segment really helped seal the game. Zooming in on that segment, the story of what Prosser has wanted from his team could be found.

Tahlik Chavez sank a triple for Charleston Southern to start the period, giving the Bucs their only lead of the second half. CSU leveled the contest once more on a Kalib Clinton layup shortly thereafter. The distributed shooting of Kelton Talford (layup, two free throws), Cory Hightower (two jumpers), Kalen Harrison (one three-pointer) and Toneari Lane (one three-pointer) during the six-minute string that opened the half led Winthrop to a double-digit lead it rarely relinquished.

“Coach emphasized that most of the losses we had were where teams had like 10 more shots than we did, and we were still losing by two points,” Hightower said. “We just emphasized that if we get shots, there’s no way we lose these games.”

Winthrop did get shots, but perhaps the bigger keys might have been how the Eagles limited Charleston Southern’s looks and capitalized on Buc miscues. CSU tried just 23 shots in the second stanza – hitting eight – with seven of those tries coming in the final three minutes. CSU hit 3-of-11 from distance and 6-of-13 from the line in the second 20.

“I think it was just a conscious effort to pressure the ball (in the second half),” Prosser said. “There were a couple of things that were schematic. There were a couple of things were just maybe a little bit of effort. I thought our kids took to it in the second half and they pressured the ball. They made guys a little more uncomfortable. You have to do that, because they have really good offensive players and they’re well-coached.

“We can be a better defensive team than we have been, and we freakin’ better be moving forward.”

The turnover advantage also played heavily in Winthrop’s favor. The Eagles committed just eight miscues that led to seven Charleston Southern points, while Winthrop compelled 14 turnovers that led to 25 Eagle points. The points off turnovers advantaged leaned toward Winthrop, 18-3, in the first half.

“We emphasized in practice leading up to the game to just be smart with (the ball),” Hightower said. “We knew Charleston Southern was really good in transition and with how they score. Our giving up turnovers would just give them free buckets. On the defensive side, I told (forward) Chase (Claxton) that we feed off him. Whatever he did was how our team was going to act.”

Claxton blocked a shot, forced a turnover, and recorded three assists.

“It’s one of those things where you look at our team and people say, ‘What are you doing about this?’,” Prosser said. “We understand. We’re not the heaviest and most physical team in the world. With what we have, we have to do a better job. We’ll continue to make sure we take care of it. If we do that and we defend a little bit, I think we’ll have a chance to get some wins.”

Hightower guided Winthrop with 19 points, pouring in 8-of-16 shots from the field. Three of Hightower’s seven tries from distance found the net. Toneari Lane contributed 17 to the Eagle effort, hitting 6-of-8 from the field (5-of-7 from three), while Kelton Talford added 13 and Kasen Harrison tallied 10. The Eagles shot 50 percent for the game (27-for-54) and assisted on 19 of those 26 makes. Hightower and Harrison dished six helpers apiece.

Claudell Harris paced CSU with 15 points in 28 minutes of reserve action. Harris put home 5-of-9 tries from the deck. Tyeree Bryan hit 6-of-11 shots for 14 points, while Kalib Clinton totaled 12. Clinton made all five shots he attempted. CSU shot 49 percent (24-for-49), with 10-of-21 three-point tries finding the mark. The Bucs struggled from the line, however, hitting just 6-of-14 (42.9 percent).

Both sides return to Big South play Saturday. Winthrop (9-13, 4-5 Big South) travels to Clinton, S.C., to take on Presbyterian. Game time from the Templeton Center is set for 2:00 (Eastern). Charleston Southern (7-13, 3-6) heads to Farmville, Va., to battle Longwood in a 6:00 (Eastern) tip. Both contests are set for streaming over ESPN+.


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