Game #9-546: Winthrop Eagles vs. Charleston Southern BuccaneersMarch 7, 2013 12:00 pm
Myrtle Beach, SC
The last remaining coach below the Red Line in the NCAA Tournament is Gregg Marshall of Wichita State. Six years ago, Marshall was coaching at Winthrop where he led the Eagles to the Big South's lone Round of 32 appearance. In this quarterfinal game, it would be Pat Kelsey instead coaching Winthrop against Charleston Southern. And while unfathomable back when Marshall was coaching, the Bucs under former Marshall assistant Barclay Radebaugh were heavy favorites going into this game against Winthrop. Winthrop did have some decent years under Randy Peele between Marshall and Kelsey, but Peele was fired for Winthrop being nowhere near as good as they were under Marshall. Winthrop was still not too bad after Marshall left, winning two tournaments in three seasons under Peele. But Winthrop had otherwise fallen back to the middle of the pack, which was deemed unacceptable.
A coach is often a big driving force behind the perception of a program. Above the Red Line, think of Duke without Coach K. Or think of Michigan State without Tom Izzo. In 2007, Winthrop averaged 4,000 fans a game, exceptional numbers for a Big South school. A year later, that number had dropped by 500 fans per game. What caused the drop? Winthrop did not crush everybody like in 2007, but still was in first place for most of conference play and won the conference tournament as a 2 seed. And they still had Mike Jenkins and Chris Gaynor, key players on that 2007 team. But they did not have Gregg Marshall. And on Winthrop's message board, administrator Jeremy Dunlap felt that when Marshall left most of Winthrop's fans decided that was it for the program's heyday. Some Eagle fans did not even wait to see how Peele did, they were just unhappy that Marshall was no longer there. And it's rather strange since we do not go to basketball games to watch a coach coach. This is a phenomenon strictly limited to college sports, where longtime coaches remain a familiar face even when players come and go. Nobody goes to Miami Heat games to watch Erik Spoelstra coach. Even a legendary NBA coach like Phil Jackson does not get anywhere near as much attention as his players. But in college basketball, we apparently want a coach who adult fans can admire instead of the players. A lot of this is probably that the coach is often more open to talk to the media than the players, who are often busy with non-basketball matters such as academics. And Kyle has written before that he was more at ease talking with coaches more similar in age to him than the players. I know that on my High Point message board, a major rift in our fans developed when fans of Bart Lundy did not want to continue supporting HPU basketball under Scott Cherry when Lundy was fired. To me as well as Dunlap, I wish fans could support their schools and teams above who is working there.
So now Pat Kelsey had to handle a Winthrop team sliding downward against upwardly mobile Charleston Southern. Despite the difference between the two teams in record, I expected a close game. Schools with more success in the past often do better with expectations behind them. None of Winthrop's current players had been key players for a NCAA Tournament team, but have been involved in a culture that expects winning in Rock Hill. For Charleston Southern, being expected to win is a new thing. And things would go better early for Winthrop, who led 7-2 at the first media timeout. Charleston Southern would quickly catch back up, and slowly was able to go ahead and build up a decent 31-22 halftime lead behind the shooting of Mathiang Muo.
But Kelsey was still able to keep Winthrop in the game. Winthrop slowed the game down and played good defense just like Marshall's teams did. But what is important is that Kelsey still does not have the talent that Marshall did. And talent is what Radebaugh finally had at Charleston Southern. Neither team shot well, but Winthrop shot especially poorly. Matt Cayuela sitting next to me hoped Winthrop would lose just to take the slow and defensive Eagles out of the tournament, which could result in better basketball. But this style of basketball had won a lot of games at Winthrop in the past. WU cut CSU's lead to two points five minutes into the half. But that is as much as Winthrop could do. Charleston Southern was able to withstand good defense to hold off the Eagles and won 54-47. As expected, the old guard of the Big South went down here.
Winthrop fans have to know that old guard is not going to be coming back. Attendance has plummeted dramatically over the last six years, with Peele's final season a year ago having 60 percent fewer fans than Marshall had for his last season. And of course coaching goes a long way in college basketball between winning and losing. But Winthrop fans should go to games because they like Winthrop basketball rather than who is coaching. Coaches come and go, but with a few exceptions like Wake Forest in the 1950s the school will stay right where it is at. Winthrop has some of the best resources in the conference at a school that does not have American-style football to distract itself with, as well as a quality 6,000 seat arena much better than what most Big South schools have. And that is why Pat Kelsey will ultimately succeed at Winthrop after this rebuilding year. Eagle fans just need to give him time.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 54, WINTHROP 47
WINTHROP 14-17 (6-10) -- J. Jerome 5-12 5-7 15; A. Smith 3-10 1-2 9; G. Gamble 3-13 2-2 10; S. Johnson 2-6 0-0 4; R. King 1-2 0-0 2; L. Brown 1-1 0-0 2; C. Farmer 0-4 3-3 3; S. Diop 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 16-50 11-14 47.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 18-11 (12-4) -- M. Muo 5-13 0-0 15; S. Nimley 1-13 4-4 7; A. Harper 2-8 7-8 11; P. Gombwer 0-2 0-0 0; A. Fullah 0-1 2-2 2; J. Sexton 1-5 2-3 4; M. Kennedy 0-0 2-2 2; C. Bowen 4-5 0-0 8; M. Bernard 0-1 2-2 2; S. Strickland 1-2 0-0 3; G. Dorleus 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-50 19-21 54.
Three-point goals: WINT 4-28 (G. Gamble 2-10; R. King 0-1; J. Jerome 0-3; A. Smith 2-8; C. Farmer 0-3; S. Johnson 0-3), CHSO 7-24 (J. Sexton 0-1; M. Muo 5-11; S. Strickland 1-1; A. Harper 0-2; S. Nimley 1-8; P. Gombwer 0-1); Rebounds: WINT 24 (G. Gamble 6), CHSO 41 (M. Muo 11); Assists: WINT 7 (J. Jerome 2), CHSO 7 (S. Nimley 4); Total Fouls -- WINT 17, CHSO 13; Fouled Out: WINT-None; CHSO-None.
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