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Winthrop survives tale of two halves, takes down Presbyterian

Winthrop forward Kelton Talford (4) led the Eagles with 21 points in Wednesday's win over Presbyterian. (Photo: Winthrop University Athletics)

ROCK HILL, S.C. – A decade ago, current Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said something to a still-green reporter – you might know him – after a game. He said, paraphrasing, one of his biggest challenges was getting a group of 18-to-22-year-olds to play 40 complete minutes of basketball.

Fast forward 10 years to Wednesday night, and the virtual entirety of Winthrop basketball in the 2022-23 season was on display at the Winthrop Coliseum.

In the first half, the Eagles had what seemed to be one of their best shooting periods in the program’s Division 1 history – records such as those are not readily available – in scorching the nets to a 13-point lead over Presbyterian at the interval.

Then, there was the second half, in which Winthrop shot just over half of the percentage it compiled in the first stanza. The Eagles assisted on just four of their 11 second-half makes and committed six of their 10 turnovers in the period.

Winthrop led by as many as 24 in the second half and finally left the floor with an 82-72 result over Presbyterian before an announced crowd of 1,066.

Winthrop coach Mark Prosser often says after games that winning is hard and it should be celebrated. Still, one could understand if Prosser did not breathe as easily as he may have anticipated just minutes before.

“Anytime you have a double-figure win in league play, I think you did some things well,” Prosser said. “Being able to build a lead against a team like that that’s so well-coached and plays so hard is a big deal. We don’t take that for granted. We certainly enjoy that, and we’re going to celebrate that and the effort of our guys.”

One word lingered in the air like the sweltering heat in the Coliseum, though: But…

“As a coach, the things that linger with you are that last six-and-a-half minutes when we lost by 14 points, which isn’t what we want to do,” Prosser said.

Winthrop (7-9, 2-1 Big South) put up a nearly flawless first half. The Eagles connected on better than 79 percent (19-of-24) of their shots in the period. Nine threes found the net on 12 attempts. Four free throws were made in five tries.

“We shot the ball well and I think we were due to shoot it well. We hadn’t been shooting it well for the last several games,” Prosser said. “I didn’t know we were gonna bank three threes in and that obviously helps anytime that happens. The reason why you know that stuff’s coming is because of the guys (players shooting after the game).”

Offensive rebounds – another area of emphasis for Prosser – also proved elusive, for several reasons. The Eagles snatched just seven offensive caroms, owing partly to their scorching shooting effort in the first 20.

“We have to get better there,” Prosser said while referring to Presbyterian’s effort in hauling in 20 offensive rebounds. “They missed 30 shots and got 20 of them back, which is unacceptable. As we all know, that’s a recipe for disaster when going to play Longwood on the road (Saturday). They fly in there and they’re physical. We understand we have to get better in that area.”

The Eagles got yet another strong effort from forward Kelton Talford. Talford, who continues to be Winthrop’s standout post presence after forward D.J. Burns transferred to NC State following last season, missed just one of his 11 shots – a leaner with the shot clock expiring – while constantly battling through double-teams and relentless defensive pressure.

“I think he’s just highly efficient and highly effective,” Prosser said. “Teams have done a nice job and are starting to gameplan for him a little bit. I think he’s handled it. He doesn’t get frustrated. Whatever it takes to win, he’s gonna do that.”

“My effort was 100 percent, because that’s what I’m gonna do every game,” Talford said. “I’ve gotta give a lot of credit to my teammates for just being able to set me up with good position ahead of time. We knew they were gonna double. They just make sure I get good looks and I’m able to make a quick move to get to the basket.”

Guard Howie Fleming also had a huge night for the Eagles, knocking down 5-of-6 tries from distance.

“I think there was maybe some worry on the outside looking in about Howie as a player and his numbers. We never worried,” Prosser said. “He is hard on himself. He’s been in (the gym) a ton. That hard work starts to pay off. I expect good things for him because he’s a very hard worker and a wonderful kid.”

“We’ve been waiting for that from Howie He just came back from injury not too long ago,” Talford added. “It was just a matter of time for Howie to break out. I expect a lot from Howie because Howie’s a dog. That was a great team win and a great performance from Howie.”

All eyes – both among Winthrop fans and around the Big South – now turn toward Saturday, when Winthrop visits Willett Hall in Farmville, Va., to take on Longwood in a rematch of last year’s Big South championship game. Prosser wasted no words in assessing the trip.

“If our guys need any extra motivation for this one, they haven’t been paying attention for the last six months or whatever it’s been since the championship game,” Prosser said. “We have to make sure we channel that in the right way. There’s a group of us that were in the locker room after that game.

“It’s just the next game on our schedule, which is really important. It’ll take a great effort from us to go up there and have a chance to win,” Prosser added. “We’ll prepare the right way and we’ll hop on that long bus ride and go make a run at it.”

Talford led Winthrop and all scorers with 21 on 10-of-11 shooting. Three other Eagles finished in double figures, led by Fleming’s 16 on 5-of-6 from distance. Cory Hightower added 13 points and dished five dimes, while point guard Kasen Harrison tallied 12 and handed out five of his own helpers.

Presbyterian (5-11, 1-2) also placed four scorers in double figures. Terrell Ard, Jr. paced the Blue Hose with 18 points and six boards. Jalen Forrest added 17, with forward Owen McCormack notching 12. Guard Trevon Reddish-Rhone added 10 for PC, who hit 14-of-29 shots (48.3 percent) in each half.

Winthrop’s game at Longwood is set for a 4:00 tip Saturday afternoon. Presbyterian returns home to the Templeton Center in Clinton, S.C., to do battle with Charleston Southern Saturday. That game is set to start at 2:00. Both games are set to be streamed over ESPN+.


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