I didn't think there would be any tickets available to the Winthrop at Charleston Southern game when I searched for them a few days prior. Winthrop is no longer the powerhouse they used to be, but they can still attract fans when they travel to any Big South arena. Charleston Southern has such a small arena, so I thought my search would be fruitless, but there was a ticket still available so I made the $5 purchase.
I was making the trip to CSU from the Coastal Carolina game I had just attended. What looked like a game that would end early ended up slogging through the 2nd half making the game end around 4:05. I had to hustle to at least make some of the 1st half since the game tipped at 5:30. I bolted out of Conway and was in no mood for people going below the speed limit as I made two... let's just say "questionable" passes of some drivers that weren't going fast enough for my liking.
Once I was able to get around some slower drivers it was smooth sailing. I gassed up the car before the previous game because I knew it would be a time crunch, so there would be no stops needed. I set the cruise control for eight over the speed limit and knew I would make good time on a slow traffic day on both Hwy 701 and 17, respectively.
As I cruised down the highway I wondered how the game might play out. Winthrop was the veteran bunch that always plays teams close and tries to keep the tempo down. I had just seen a slugfest between them and Gardner-Webb a few days earlier where they won on free throws near the end. Charleston Southern was coming off a huge upset of Big South leaders UNC-Asheville on the road and also gave the Bulldogs their first Big South loss. The Bucs like to push the tempo and while they do have senior leadership in Kelvin Martin it's the freshmen guards Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley that have stood out as they combined for 48 points in the win over Asheville.
I was able to catch the pregame on the radio as I entered Mount Pleasant. I wasn't too far away and was trying to hustle as traffic was picking up a bit. The audio for the game wasn't exactly quality when it came time for the tip. It seemed as if CSU was on fire early with a bunch of 3's. The pace of the game was in favor of the Bucs as the play by play guy was trying to keep up with the action.
CSU was up by 14 as I was nearing North Charleston. I was getting antsy as there was about seven minutes to go as I pulled onto the campus. I parked my car and jogged up to will call and retrieved my ticket. I made my way in and the Bucs were up 36-26 with a little under four minutes to go.
The stands were packed and the next mission was trying to find where I was going to watch the rest of game since I had a general admission ticket. This was my fourth game at CSU, but the first with all the students, band and cheerleaders leaving little room available for anyone coming in late. I watched the rest of the half from the baseline while trying to look around the Winthrop bench any time they stood up. CSU had been slowed since their torrid start and the Eagles cut the lead to eight going into the break.
I waited patiently throughout the half, all the while looking for a spot to catch the rest of the action. Once the second stanza began I saw a row in the reserved section that had no one in it. I didn't remember anyone sitting there in the first, so I took my chances. It was pretty close to the Winthrop bench and the contingent of Eagle fans that made the journey from Rock Hill. They were lively group and at points they seemed to be louder than the CSU fans.
The second half ended up being much like the first as it was a game of runs. CSU was able to push the lead to 17 fueled by Nimley and Harper. Winthrop could have gotten blown out of the gym, but they used their solid defense to turn the tides. There was a sequence of events that got the Winthrop fans going when CSU's Jeremy Sexton had a breakaway layup, but Reggie Middleton made huge block from behind, CSU would retrieve the ball but Nimley was rejected by George Valentine leading to a fast break and foul for the Eagles. It was a big shift in momentum and the Eagles turned to Andre Jones who was finding his groove for Winthrop on offense and they had the lead down to five.
The game was getting into crunch time under the final media timeout and I didn't think that would translate well for CSU since they are uncomfortable in half court sets, but they didn't crumble as they were able to get to the line and used some great defense of their own. Winthrop couldn't close the gap and CSU put the game away and capped it off with an alley-oop from Nimley to Harper.
The final score of 77-66 didn't really reflect how great of a game this was. There were dueling fanbases in the tiniest gym in D-1 and plenty of back and forth action. I'm a bit upset I missed the majority of the first half, but the same energy was brought throughout the rest of the game. This may be the year Charleston Southern is ready to break out. They proved they can beat some of the league's best in Asheville and Campbell; they just need to stay consistent. Winthrop may be out of contention for a regular season title, but they'll always be a tough out with their defense. I just know it is all shaping up to be a wild second half in the Big South.
at CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 77, WINTHROP 66 01/21/2012
WINTHROP 8-13 (5-5) -- A. Jones 11-19 4-6 26; G. Valentine 2-4 1-2 5; J. Bourne 1-2 0-0 2; R. Middleton 4-10 6-6 15; J. Jerome 0-2 4-4 4; A. Smith 0-2 0-0 0; M. Morgan 1-2 0-0 2; R. King 1-4 3-3 5; G. Gamble 3-8 0-0 7; D. Henry 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 18-21 66. CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 13-7 (7-3) -- S. Nimley 4-9 12-14 24; A. Harper 6-9 4-7 19; K. Martin 1-2 3-5 5; J. Sexton 2-7 3-3 7; M. Muo 3-3 0-0 8; C. Bowen 2-3 2-2 6; P. Gombwer 3-3 0-0 6; S. Strickland 1-2 0-0 2; C. Grier 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 22-41 24-31 77.
Three-point goals: WINT 2-15 (A. Jones 0-4; G. Gamble 1-5; R. Middleton 1-2; J. Jerome 0-1; D. Henry 0-1; A. Smith 0-2), CHSO 9-18 (J. Sexton 0-3; M. Muo 2-2; C. Grier 0-1; S. Strickland 0-1; A. Harper 3-4; S. Nimley 4-7); Rebounds: WINT 19 (G. Valentine 8), CHSO 27 (K. Martin 9); Assists: WINT 0 , CHSO 10 (S. Strickland 3); Total Fouls -- WINT 21, CHSO 19; Fouled Out: WINT-A. Jones; CHSO-None.