ROCK HILL, SC—The second half of the season for the Winthrop men’s basketball team begins Wednesday, Jan. 8 when it travels to Clinton, SC to take on Presbyterian College in its Big South Conference opener.
Winthrop enters league play with a 6-6 mark having lost four straight games as it looks for its third win in a league opener over the past four seasons. Last season the Eagles fell 74-61 to High Point at home in their opener but won the previous two at Presbyterian College (2011) and at home against the Virginia Military Institute (2010).
The Eagles are looking for their first road win in the Big South since 2011-12 as the Eagles were 0-8 in league road games last season. Among those eight losses, Winthrop held double-digit leads in three of them and held second half leads in five of them.
The two teams split the series last year with each winning at home as Winthrop holds a slight advantage in the all-time series 13-12. Last season the Eagles fell 64-57 at PC while shooting 54 percent, but the Blue Hose also shot 54 percent and connected on nine threes.
Junior Andre Smith broke out of his shooting slump at Dayton as he was the only Eagle in double-figures with 11 points. He went 4-for-7 from the floor and 3-for-4 behind the arc. Since scoring 13 points in the win over James Madison, Smith was 13-for-42 from the floor and 9-for-33 behind the arc the next six games. He has scored in double-figures in two straight games as he went 8-for-9 at the foul line on his way to 15 points in the double-overtime loss at Hampton. Even though he hit a little slump behind the arc, Smith is ranked third in the Big South and 44th nationally in three-point field goal percentage (43%). He is also fourth in the Big South with 2.67 threes per game.
Despite a season-low five points against Dayton, freshman Keon Johnson remains the team’s top scorer at 14.0 points per game. Johnson was 1-for-9 from the floor and is now shooting 43 percent on the year. He remains one of the top shooting three-point threats in the Big South with 27 made and shooting 47 percent. Over the last five games Johnson is averaging 14.8 points and shooting 50 percent from three and 96 percent at the foul line (22-for-23). Johnson ranks ninth in the Big South with 2.25 threes per game.
The scoring for redshirt junior Keon Moore has gone up since being inserted into the starting lineup four games ago as he’s averaging 10.8 per game in that span. Moore is known for his sharp shooting behind the arc, but during the losing streak he’s shooting 28 percent. With his shots not falling, Moore has been more aggressive and been able to get to the free throw line going 14-for-16 in the last four games.
After starting the season 5-1 the Eagles are 1-5 since and turnovers have played a role in the last six games, especially over the course of the current losing streak. As of Dec. 15, the Eagles ranked 17th nationally in turnover margin, but during the losing streak they are averaging 19 per game. During the team’s losing streak the scoring has been down to 66 points per game while the Eagles were averaging 78.8 points per game.
The Blue Hose are 4-11 on the year and enter the matchup with the Eagles having lost two straight and four of the last five. The two losses came on the road at Marshall (77-49) and at Samford (71-59).
Red-shirt junior Jordan Downing leads the Blue Hose in scoring at 19.3 points per game and is second in the Big South. Downing scores from all over as he leads the team with 37 threes and free throws made with 49. He is a 43 percent shooter from the floor, 40 percent behind the arc and 86 percent at the foul line. Downing has led the team in scoring eight times this season and posted a career-high 37 points in the win at UNC Greensboro. Downing scored 26 points on the Eagles in the first meeting last year in Rock Hill, but did not play in the matchup in Clinton.
One of the top scoring freshmen in the Big South is guard Reggie Dillard, who ranks second on the team with 12.6 points per game and is second on the team with 4.6 assists. Dillard has led the team in scoring four times and has scored 20 or more in four games.
Winthrop and PC are ranked second and third in the Big South in three-point field goal percentage. The Eagles are averaging 8.08 makes per game and ranked third in the Big South while the Blue Hose are 7th in the league at 6.2 per game.
PC is 3-2 at home this season and averaging 76 points per game at the Templeton Center. The Blue Hose are last in the league in points per game at 64.3 and 8th in scoring defense at 73.5, just one spot ahead of Winthrop (74.5).
All-time the Eagles have posted an 11-17 record in their Big South openers, but have won two of the last three and have more league opening wins on the road than at home. Winthrop is 5-8 at home while it is 6-9 on the road. The only time Winthrop has face PC in a league opener came in 2011 with a 59-56 victory.