My third game in two days took me to Rock Hill, S.C., to check out the Winthrop Eagles take on Division 3 school Virginia-Wise. It was a short drive from Charlotte to Rock Hill, with the two cities neighboring each other along the North and South Carolina border. I had plenty of time to blow before gametime, so I was hoping to find a spot to chill. Luckily, I got a few recommendations on Twitter to check out McHale's Pub downtown. As I came to find out from several patrons at the bar, there wasn't much else in Rock Hill, plus they had free wi-fi, good food, and $1.50 beers, so I had made a wise choice.
After a few hours, I made my way to Winthrop Coliseum, which was unlike any arena I had been to. The concourse seems separated from the arena itself as they mainly keep the double doors to enter the arena closed most of the time. When you enter, it feels like you're going into a giant basement to watch a game. That's not a knock on the Coliseum, it just provides for a unique atmosphere.
When you walk in the arena, it's hard not to notice the numerous Big South champions banners. Winthrop basketball had dominated the Big South for much of the past 10 years. The high point of the university, and for any school from the Big South, came in 2007 when they made it to the second round of the Big Dance after easily beating Notre Dame. As a Coastal Carolina fan, I'm supposed to not like the Eagles, but I respect the string of dominance they achieved.
Since winter break had begun for the students, the crowd was very sparse. I'm not sure why they just didn't charge one price for admission, since I ended up buying a $6 ticket and moved over before the game even started. Of course the opponent, Virginia-Wise, was a large factor in the small crowd, but the Cavaliers were coming off only a three-point loss at Wofford the previous day, so the possibility of a close game was still there.
The first half was very competitive as Winthrop would start to build small leads, but UVW would come back each time until they had a run of their own to gain a small advantage. Travis Berry, who had 27 the previous night against Wofford, was leading the charge. Several offensive boards led to a lot of second-chance points, as well. Winthrop's Gideon Gamble shouldered the scoring load in what would be his best game of the season so far, but the Cavs still went into the half with a one-point lead.
Going into the second half, I started to wonder if I was going to see my second-ever Black Line Upset, with the first being four years ago when Coker took down CCU. Winthrop had other plans, as they turned up the D from the start forcing a bunch of turnovers and reestablishing the lead. Whenever the Eagles pounded the ball down low, good things would happen, especially when freshman James Bourne was sent in to the game. He dominated a small stretch of the game that sent the Winthrop lead to double digits.
Winthrop left the inside game for a stretch late in the second half, and their outside shots weren't falling. This led to Virginia-Wise making one last push, but senior Andre Jones ended any hopes of a Cavalier rally with a few daggers to seal the game and lead the Eagles to a nine-point win.
This Winthrop team has some potential, but no one can get a real gauge on how they're going to be this year. They have played a pretty difficult schedule this year, and only have one win against D-1 competition. If they can lock down on defense for a whole game, they will be a tough out in the Big South.
at WINTHROP 79, VIRGINIA WISE 70 12/11/2011
WINTHROP 3-6 (1-1) -- R. Middleton 5-14 0-1 10; A. Jones 7-14 5-5 19; G. Valentine 4-8 2-2 10; M. Morgan 3-6 3-4 9; R. King 1-3 0-0 2; A. Smith 0-4 1-2 1; G. Gamble 6-6 2-3 17; L. Brown 1-2 1-2 3; J. Bourne 3-4 2-3 8; S. Diop 0-0 0-0 0; D. Henry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-61 16-22 79.
Three-point goals: - , WINT 3-11 (A. Jones 0-4; G. Gamble 3-3; R. Middleton 0-2; A. Smith 0-2); Rebounds: , WINT 32 (G. Valentine 6); Assists: , WINT 11 (R. Middleton 4); Total Fouls -- , WINT 14; Fouled Out: -; WINT-None.