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Big South Championship: Winthrop uses a second half rally to win Big South title

The Eagles will go to the NCAA Tournament for the second time under Pat Kelsey.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 29 Winthrop at Duke

It took a big second half rally, but Winthrop rallied past Hampton to win the Big South Championship and claim their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2017. The Eagles used a 48 point second half to ultimately win 76-68 in front of a rowdy home crowd in Rock Hill.

Hampton immediately held the upper hand in the early going as Winthrop’s potent offense sputtered on its home floor. The Pirates raced out to a 22-7 lead that was capped by a Jermaine Morrow three. Shortly after, however, the Eagles finally got some shots to fall as a quick 7-0 cut into the deficit.

The Pirates would spend the rest of the half trying to keep Winthrop in check, and were successful for the most part. The Eagles cut it to 30-28 with just a few minutes left to play, but Hampton was able to hold serve and take a 33-28 lead into the locker room. The low-scoring affair was a stark difference from the first two matchups between the two that featured totals of 211 and 168.

In the opening minutes of the second half, both the scoring and intensity ramped up as the Winthrop home crowd started to make its presence known. With just under 13 minutes to play, a block from Chase Claxton and a a three from Charles Falden gave Winthrop its first lead since the first basket of the game.

One of the key reasons that Winthrop was able to get back into the game and retake the lead in the second half was of its ability to contain Jermaine Morrow. Morrow had scored at least 30 points in both of Hampton’s tournament wins, but the Eagles swarmed him for the first 30 minutes of the game and made everything difficult for him.

Just as Winthrop had taken a 48-44 lead, Marrow finally connected on a jumper, which were his first points since the halfway point of the first half.

With the Winthrop lead down to two, drama ensued in Rock Hill. Following a Winthrop missed free throw that got stuck on the rim (a wedgie, in basketball internet terms), the officials inadvertently blew their whistle. After convening, the Eagles were rewarded the ball, and a DJ Burns bucket stretched the lead to five. On the next possession, Burns scored again as the Eagles’ lead increased to seven.

The momentum had swung entirely in Winthrop’s favor, and Hampton faced an uphill battle. The Pirates continued to battle and were able to get the deficit down to five with just over five minutes to play. That same margin held until the final media timeout as Hampton tried to muster one last run.

It never came to fruition.

A thunderous dunk from Claxton stretched the lead to nine with 2:41, and Hampton airballed a three from the corner on the other end as the game slipped further away.

Even thought Winthrop is among the worst free throwing shooting teams in the country, the Eagles did enough at the line down the stretch to maintain a lead. But Hampton wouldn’t go down quietly as a three from Dondre Griffin made it a 67-62 game with 1:37 to go.

The Pirates couldn’t get the string of stops and buckets that they needed, and the euphoria began to set in during the closing minutes as the crowd could sense the imminent NCAA Tournament berth.

It marks the second NCAA Tournament appearance for Winthrop since Pat Kelsey took over in 2013 and the 11th appearance overall for the program.