ROCK HILL, SC—The final week of the regular season is upon us and first place in the South Division of the Big South Conference is on the line with four teams in the race, including Winthrop men’s basketball which hosts UNC Asheville Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a crucial matchup.
Winthrop is 15-12 on the year and 8-5 in the league as it trails Asheville, Gardner-Webb and Coastal Carolina by one game for first place in the South Division. There are several different scenarios that could take place as the regular season comes to a close with all teams playing their final two games. Winthrop could end up anywhere from first to fifth place in the standings, but Winthrop must defeat the Bulldogs to have any chance at first place in the division. Should the Eagles fall in one of their final two games they would still have a shot at second place and a first round bye in the opening round of next week’s conference tournament.
The Eagles face an Asheville team that is 15-13 overall and 9-5 in the league and winners of two straight. The first time these two teams met was Jan. 22 in Asheville, NC as the Bulldogs handed the Eagles an 81-66 loss. Winthrop has dropped four of the last five meetings but defeated the Bulldogs at the Winthrop Coliseum in 2013, 70-61. Winthrop currently leads the all-time series 34-32 and 29-28 in Big South regular season meetings.
Junior Keon Moore is coming off a career-high 27 points in the Eagles’ overtime loss at Gardner-Webb last Saturday. It was his 5th 20-point game of the season, three of which have come on the road. He leads the team with 13.0 points per game and is closing in on 50 three-pointers made on the season. If he can accomplish that before the season ends he’ll become the third Eagles to hit the 50 mark this season. In the history of the program, there has never been three different players with 50 or more threes made in the same season.
Senior Joab Jerome and freshman Keon Johnson are tied for second on the team in scoring at 11.9 per game. Jerome is one assist away from 200 in his career as he’s already passed 800 career points and 400 rebounds this season. Johnson is five points away from becoming the program’s leader for points in a single-season by a freshman. He is also two threes away from setting the freshman record for a single-season. His scoring average is ranked fifth among freshmen in the Big South.
One of the biggest reasons behind the Bulldogs success against the Eagles recently has been the free throw line. In the last four losses to Asheville there has been a big separation at the line. The Bulldogs have hit 20 or more at the line in the last four wins over Winthrop and have shot 81 percent (95-for-118). Meanwhile the Eagles have shot just 54 percent at the foul line in those four losses (43-for-79). The Bulldogs are second in the league in free throw attempts, but first in free throw percentage (.742).
Asheville is led in scoring by Big South Freshman of the Year candidate Andrew Rousey. The first year player is averaging 19.6 points per game and is one of the top sharp shooters behind the arc in the league. Rousey, who has been named freshman of the week five times, has 87 made threes on the year which is second in the league. He leads the league in scoring for conference games only at 22.9.
Jaron Lane is second on the team in scoring at 15.4 points overall and has bumped his average up to 18.2 per game in league play. Lane is also 4th in the league in field goal percentage and 7th in free throw percentage. D.J. Cunningham is the third player on the team averaging double-figures at 11.0 per game as well as 9.3 rebounds per game. He didn’t play in the first meeting of the season and is coming off 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks against Coastal Carolina on Saturday. In 2012-13, Cunningham averaged 7.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks in the two meetings.
The Bulldogs have dropped their last two road games as they fell 72-71 at Presbyterian College on Feb. 15 and a 102-92 decision at Radford on Feb. 13. In league play they are 3-4 on the road.