LYNCHBURG, VA— Winthrop made its final 10 free throws of the game as it pulled away late for a 73-62 victory over Liberty, Tuesday evening at the Vines Center.
Winthrop freshman Keon Johnson drained a three in front of the Eagles bench with 3:13 to play in the game for a seven-point advantage. The Eagles outscored the Flames 17-8 over the final four minutes of the game to capture their third road win in league play this season.
Senior Joab Jerome led three players in double-figures with 19 points as the Eagles improve to 11-10 overall and 5-4 in the Big South. Johnson finished the game with 12 points while Keon Moore, who only played four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, added 11 points including four free throws in the final two minutes.
Liberty fell to 9-15 overall and 3-6 in the Big South as it was led by Antwan Burrus’ 16 points while Andrew Smith had 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
“They changed defenses for the first time in about 5-6 possessions and they went back to their 3-2 zone,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey, describing the key three by Johnson. “Our kids knew exactly what to get into as soon as we saw the zone and he was able to get loose in that little action and Joey made a great read in finding him. He had a 6-9 guy running at him with long arms and jumping all out trying to touch the ball, hand-to-ball. As coach (Rick) Majerus says with every ounce of his being. Keon feathered a big three right in front of our bench and that was a back breaker, it was a big shot.”
The Eagles grabbed their first lead in the game just shy of three minutes into the contest and didn’t trail the rest of the way. Liberty had a few chances to tie or take the lead but perhaps the best chance came with the score tied at 50-50 and Burrus trying to complete a three-point play with 8:19 to play. Burrus missed the free throw and Jerome went down the other way and converted two free throws to put Winthrop back up by two.
Defensively the Eagles forced Liberty into a shot clock violation on the other end and Andre Smith buried a three for a five-point lead. Burrus did make it a one possession game at 56-54 with 4:54 to play as he scored inside and was fouled. Burrus missed the free throw, Liberty boarded the miss but wasn’t able to convert. Jerome scored on the other end for the Eagles to ignite a 9-2 run that turned into a 15-3 run as the Eagles improve to 3-2 on the road in the league.
Tevin Prescott, Smith, Moore and Johnson all combined to go 10-for-10 at the foul line over the final two minutes as the Eagles finished the game 22-for-27 at the line. Winthrop shot 50 percent from the floor while Liberty finished the game at 43 percent but were just 2-for-12 behind the arc. The Flames managed 40 points in the paint and 14 second chance points but the Eagles held strong.
Winthrop trailed 4-0 early, but a Jerome three-point play put the Eagles in front 5-4 at the 17:15 mark of the first half. Winthrop didn’t trail the rest of the first half as the teams went back-and-forth as the Eagles led 30-27 at the break.
The Eagles were able to push their lead to four points but were quickly brought back to a one possession game. A Carlin Bremner floater in the lane with 7:18 left put Winthrop up 19-15, but Liberty came right back as Burrus followed a tip-in attempt by Smith with one of his own to cut the Eagles lead back to two. A couple of possessions later freshman Johnson drained a three from the wing for the Eagles largest lead of the first half, 22-17. Liberty came back to within a point with four straight points, but the Eagles were able to gain another five-point advantage with 2:16 to play in the half.
After a Liberty miss on the other end, Winthrop came back with a chance to push the lead to seven points as Jerome dribbled into the lane but as he looked to pass the ball, Larry Brown slipped in the lane and Jerome’s attempt to get the ball into the backcourt sailed out of bounds.
In the first half the Eagles shot 43 percent from the field, but were just 1-for-7 from three while Liberty shot 36 percent from the floor and didn’t hit a three. The Flames hit the boards hard with eight first half rebounds that led to six second chance points.
With Moore out with two fouls early and Smith leaving the game early with an eye injury the Eagles had to get some production from its bench and it came through with 12 points. Brandon Vega and Bremner each had four points off the bench in the first 20 minutes. Bremner also had a career-high three steals.
In addition to his 19 points, Jerome had seven rebounds and four assists. Prescott added nine points and four rebounds off the bench.
John Caleb Sanders added 14 points and four assists for Liberty.
Winthrop will step away from Big South action for its next contest when it hosts Barber-Scotia on Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Winthrop Coliseum as part of a doubleheader with the women’s basketball team that will face Gardner-Webb at 7 p.m.