ROCK HILL, SC— Junior Andre Smith scored 21 points to lead Winthrop to an 82-74 victory over USC Upstate, Wednesday evening in non-conference men’s basketball action.
Smith scored seven of his 21 points over the final two minutes of the game to help the Eagles hold off the Spartans for their first 2-0 start since 2009-10. USC Upstate, fresh off a win at Virginia Tech in its opener, fell to 1-1 on the season.
In addition to Smith’s 21 points, Joab Jerome scored 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals. The Winthrop bench played a big role in the win as it contributed with 25 points led by sophomore Tevin Prescott’s 10 points while Christian Farmer added seven.
Winthrop led by as much as 14 points in the second half, but the Spartans were able to cut the lead down to three points on two different occasions and did so with 2:18 to play after a Torey Craig three from the wing to make it a 75-72 game. Smith responded with a jumper just inside the three-point line to make it a five-point advantage with 1:38 to play. Craig tried to cut the lead to within a basket with 45 seconds but his shot was off left and out of bounds as Winthrop held off the Spartans defensively and Smith finished off the win by making five-of-six from the foul line.
The Eagles led 70-56 after one of Smith’s four threes on the day with 7:07 left, but Craig helped pull the Spartans within three points over the next four minutes.
“We harp on consistency with our players,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey. “They’re a really good team and really well coached and you knew they weren’t going to go away. You knew that run was coming. We’ve got a lot of character kids in that locker room and they have a lot of competitive toughness. They weathered it and found a way to get the W.”
One of the biggest plays down the stretch came with 2:31 to play as the Eagles were facing a shot clock violation when the ball was knocked out of bounds by Upstate, giving the Eagles just three seconds to get a shot off. Jerome inbounded the ball and was forced to throw it high as the official counted five seconds and James Bourne jumped up to receive the pass. As he came down, he pump faked and then drove the lane and made a short jumper in the process of getting fouled. Bourne completed the three-point play for a 75-69 lead prior to Craig’s response with his fifth trey of the game.
Craig led all scorers as he tied his career-best 31 points on 11-for-20 shooting, 5-for-9 behind the arc and added nine rebounds. Ty Greene finished with 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting and also dished out seven assists.
Winthrop shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half to finish the game at 47 percent while the Spartans cooled off in the second half at 40 percent and finished the game at 48 percent. The Eagles won the battle of the boards 34-29 and allowed just six offensive rebounds after allowing 17 in the opener.
The Eagles opened the second half outscoring the Spartans 11-7 over the first four minutes to open up a 50-46 lead. Jerome scored inside on the first possession of the second half to give Winthrop its first lead since 3-2 at the 19:26 mark of the first half.
Jerome took over the game to start the second half as he scored 10 points over the first six and a half minutes. That stretch included six straight points that led to an Upstate timeout as the Eagles led 56-48 with 13:16 to play. The Spartans missed their shot coming out of the timeout and Jerome scored on the other end for eight straight points and the first double-figure lead for either team as Winthrop led 58-48.
USC Upstate cut the lead back to seven points after a second chance basket from Ricardo Glenn off a missed free throw from Craig. Andre Smith answered with a triple from the corner and then Larry Brown came up with a big defensive play on the other end with a block on Craig as he drove the lane. The Spartans bench thought there was a foul and whistled for technical foul. Smith made both free throws for a 65-53 lead with 10:16 remaining in the game.
Winthrop’s bench gave a big lift in the first half as the Eagles trailed 16-11 with 12:13 left in the half when after a Farmer three-pointer, who had subbed in just a couple of minutes prior. Brandon Vega and Prescott checked in and gave the Eagles a lift. Vega knocked down two free throws after Prescott scored inside and then Vega found Jerome for three that helped the Eagles pull within one-point at 21-20 at the 9:31 mark. Unfortunately Vega was whistled for a technical foul after celebrating an illegal screen called on Upstate. Greene stepped up and made both free throws for a 23-20 lead.
Freshman Josh Davenport tied the game at 26-26 with 6:52 to play in the first half and had a chance to take the lead but Smith’s 10-footer outside the lane was short and Upstate converted on the other end with a three from Craig.
Keon Johnson converted on two free throws to cut the lead back to one point before USC Upstate answered with back-to-back buckets from Greene for a five-point lead. Winthrop kept getting the deficit down to a single possession but the Spartans continued to have an answer. After two free throws by Johnson made it a 33-32 game, Greene answered with a three in the corner to put USC Upstate 36-32 with 4:11 to play in the first half.
Winthrop outscored the Spartans 7-3 the rest of the way to tie the game at 39-39 at the break. USC Upstate shot 58 percent from the floor and 6-for-10 from behind the arc. Winthrop shot 40 percent from the floor but was 11-for-13 from the foul line. The bench contributed 19 points in the first half for Winthrop.
Johnson finished with nine points for Winthrop as he was a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul line as Winthrop finished 22-for-28 at the charity stripe. USC Upstate finished the game 12-for-15 at the line.
Winthrop is back in action on Saturday, Nov. 16 as it travels to Richmond, VA to take on 14th ranked Virginia Commonwealth at 7 p.m. Hear the game on WRHI FM 94.3/AM 1340/WRHI.com at 6:30p
Below is the play of the game (Chris Miller on the call)