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 Eagles making their way BACK!@Winthrop_MBB's Kyle Zunic to the basket!— Big South Game Day (@BigSouthGameDay) March 8, 2020
22-14 Pirates.#BigSouthMBB x @HerculesTires pic.twitter.com/wZmaz0VgD8
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.
️CLAMPS #ROCKtheHILL pic.twitter.com/PMxHlansmg— Winthrop MBB (@Winthrop_MBB) March 8, 2020
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.
Winthrop has done a great job on Jermaine Morrow today.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 8, 2020
He had scored 30+ in both Big South tournament games so far, but he's just 3-12 from the floor with 3 turnovers.
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.
Buck Joyner understandably beside himself. Damn near walked right off the court.— Rush the Other 26 (@other26hoops) March 8, 2020
4(+) point swing. https://t.co/hi2pDLfv7G
“Sir, our ice cream machine isn’t actually working at the moment.” pic.twitter.com/bCY5cbcgWC— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) March 8, 2020
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.
2:41 (2H) | ROCK the RIM!— Winthrop MBB (@Winthrop_MBB) March 8, 2020
Winthrop 65-56 HAMP #ROCKtheHILL pic.twitter.com/zhGTjH2clA
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.