The Winthrop men’s basketball team’s dream of an NCAA tournament berth ended on Sunday afternoon as the Eagles fell to Coastal Carolina 76-61 in the Big South Conference Championship title game at the HTC Center.
Winthrop falls to 20-13 while Coastal Carolina improves to 21-12 and will now await the announcement of the NCAA 68-team field which will be announced next Sunday.
Coastal connected on 58 percent of its shots for the game (28 of 48) compared to 32 percent for Winthrop (19 of 59). Winthrop, the No. 5 (South) seed, was playing its fourth game in five days, but junior sharpshooter Keon Moore didn’t blame that on the poor shooting performance, but rather credited Coastal’s tough defense.
Moore, who was voted to the All-Tournament Team, led Winthrop in scoring with 19 points as he connected on 5 of 10 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the free throw line. Joab Jerome was the only other Eagle in double figures with 13.
Coastal senior Warren Gillis, the tournament MVP, led four Chanticleer double figure scorers with a game-high 22. Josh Cameron scored 19 while Badou Diagne added 17 and Elijah Wilson finished with 12.
From the outset, it appeared that Coastal’s game plan was to take the ball and drive it right at the Winthrop guards, but Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey said they (Coastal) did the same thing in the first two games that were won by the Eagles.
“That’s Coastal’s deal. Everyone has a brand, something they hang their hat on. I said this both times we played them, and I mean it in the most complimentary way, they are a smash mouth basketball team. They are coming right between your eyes. They are like the Pittsburgh Steelers—off tackle, four yards and a cloud of dust. You know what’s coming, but stop it. That’s easier said than done.”
The tide turned with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half after Winthrop had taken its first lead of the game at 18-16 on a three-pointer by Andre Smith followed by a free throw by Jerome. Over the next four minutes, and 54 seconds the Chanticleers went on a 12-0 run to take a 28-18 lead with 5:09 left in the half.
Winthrop cut the deficit to four points at 28-24 after Moore made two free throws, Jerome scored on a drive to the basket and a wide open Tevin Prescott through down a dunk off a feed from Jerome, but Coastal answered with a 6-0 run of its own to take a 34-24 halftime lead.
The Eagles scored first to open the second half when Jerome scored inside and was fouled. He made the free throw to draw Winthrop to within seven points at 34-27, but Coastal responded again with a 8-0 run to take a 15-point lead at 42-27 after Cameron’s steal and full court drive for a layup with over 17 minutes left in the game.
Winthrop continued to fight hard, but on a day when its shots weren’t going down, the hopes for a comeback from the double digit lead appeared futile. The Eagles did manage to get to within nine with 4:36 left to play after an 8-0 run that included back-to-back three-pointers by Moore and Smith made it a 61-52 game.
Coastal closed it out by outscoring Winthrop 15-9 in the final 4:30.