Winthrop entered the NCAA Tournament as a sizable underdog to 4 seed Butler, but boasted one of the more exciting players in the nation in Keon Johnson.
Johnson’s 17 points and teammate Xavier Cooks’ team-high 23 points were not enough on Thursday as the Eagles fell to the Bulldogs, 76-64 in the First Round.
For 13 seed Winthrop, the game got out of hand fast. Butler never trailed and methodically built an eight-point lead in the first five minutes. The advantage ballooned to 19 with two minutes to play in the first half behind five made threes from Avery Woodson, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the opening 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs led 41-27 at the break, giving them a cushion to withstand a charge from Winthrop.
And that charge came fast from the Big South champions. After trading baskets for the first few minutes of the second half, Johnson scored seven straight points to bring the Eagles within seven.
But that’s as close as Winthrop could climb. Butler scored 14 of the next 16 points to eliminate any hope for the tournament’s first major upset.
Butler shot 50 percent for the game and out-rebounded the Eagles 42-27 to keep them at bay. Woodson scored 18 to lead the Bulldogs, while Kelan Martin came off the bench to add 10 points and eight rebounds.
Winthrop finished its season 26-7, complete with a Big South tournament championship, a share of the regular season title, and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. The Eagles will lose the graduating Johnson next year, but bring back Xavier Cooks, who emerged as one of the best players in the conference in 2016-17.
Butler will face the winner of Minnesota and Middle Tennessee on Saturday.