Winthrop edges VMI with late bucket from Keon Johnson
By Mike Leslie, Sports Anchor/Digital Journalist - email
ROCK HILL, SC (WinthropEagles.com) — Keon Johnson’s bucket with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game lifted Winthrop to a 58-57 victory over the Virginia Military Institute, Saturday evening in Big South Conference men’s basketball action.
The Eagles trailed by one as they inbounded the ball from the sideline with 6.7 seconds to play in the game. Johnson got the pass, worked his way into the lane and banked in a short jumper as he flew toward the VMI defense. It was the second go-ahead driving basket from Johnson as he hit one with 53 seconds to play for a 54-53 lead.
Winthrop erased a 15-point deficit to improve to 10-8 on the year and 4-2 in the Big South as it ends a three-game skid against the Keydets. The loss drops VMI to 10-9 on the year and 3-3 in the league.
The game was tied at 52-52 with 4:22 to play but neither team could get a shot to fall for nearly three minutes until D.J. Covington converted 1-of-2 free throws for a one-point lead. That setup the go-ahead basket from Johnson with 53 seconds as he drove the lane, hung in the air, clutched the ball and then dropped in the shot. VMI looked to take the lead back on the next possession but Covington couldn’t get his shot to fall and Johnson was fouled with 24 seconds left. Johnson converted the one-and-one and made both free throws for a three-point advantage.
The Keydets brought the ball up the court with a chance to tie the game and QJ Peterson was fouled driving to the basket as he converted two free throws to make it a one-point game with 19.8 seconds to play. The inbound pass came to Brandon Vega and unfortunately his feet gave out from under him as he slipped and lost the ball, giving VMI an opportunity to go in front. Peterson drove and put up a shot that didn’t fall with 12 seconds left but the rebound came right to him and as he tried to follow with a quick shot he was fouled. Peterson made both free throws, giving VMI a 57-56 lead with 10 seconds remaining.
“Obviously a big win, especially how we started,” said Winthrop head men’s basketball coach Pat Kelsey, “You give a very, very potent offensive team, the leading scoring team in the United States of America an 11-0 start that’s usually a recipe for disaster. Credit them for making us stagnant early on, but on offense I felt like we were in mud. I thought we were much more aggressive offensively in the second half. Overall it just a great team effort. Dug ourselves a big hole but fought our rear ends to get out of it as well.”
Winthrop opened up the second half on a 13-1 run, which included nine straight to start the half and pull within a point at the 15:29 mark. Over the next minutes the Eagles continued to keep it a tight game but just couldn’t get a shot to fall in order to tie the game or take the lead until Keon Moore’s three at the 8:19 marked tied the game at 47-47. A three-pointer from Peterson gave VMI a six-point lead with just over nine minutes to play but Moore hit threes on consecutive possessions to tie the game. Winthrop took the lead on a three from Johnson for the team’s first lead of the game.
The major key to the comeback for the Eagles was defense. They held VMI to just 20 points in the second half and 19 percent shooting from the floor. The Keydets are the nation’s top scoring team at 89.6 points per game and had a solid start in the first half with 37. Winthrop never really got going offensively but the defense held VMI in check and gave the opportunity for the stay in the game with a chance to win.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” added Kelsey.” We have a defensive toughness and a belief in our defensive system that even if we’re going through offensive lulls like we did tonight. Continuing to really guard you can stay in a game and even win a game. Win tough conference games that usually come down to the last possession even if your offense isn’t flowing. I think tonight was a perfect example of that.”
Moore led Winthrop with 18 points while Johnson scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half as the only two scorers in double-figures. Josh Davenport played a solid 25 minutes as he finished with five points and eight rebounds and even after Johnson’s last second shot he ran down the court and defended until the end as he contested VMI’s last attempt off the hand of Brian Brown. Winthrop finished the game shooting just 32 percent from the floor but was 4-for-9 from three in the second half.
VMI raced out to an early 11-0 that started with two Rodney Glasgow threes followed by five straight points from Peterson. The freshman guard made three free throws and then finished with a fast break basket after the Keydets forced a turnover on the other end.
The Eagles fell behind 15-3 but fought back to within five points at 22-17 with 8:22 left in the first half as the Eagles outscored VMI 14-7 over a seven-minute span. Winthrop got more aggressive attacking the basket as four of the next six points were from the foul line with Joab Jerome and Davenport each knocking down two free throws.
A Moore three with 11:48 on the clock made it a six-point game and after a steal and dunk by Peterson pushed the deficit back to double-digits, Moore scored the next five points of the game including a lay-up at the 8:22 mark. However, the Keydets outscored Winthrop 15-7 over the final seven and half minutes to lead 37-24 at the half. During that stretch the Keydets scored eight straight points with less than five to play.
Winthrop struggled from the floor in the first 20 minutes shooting just 27 percent and 3-for-12 behind the arc. VMI scored 22 of its 37 points in the paint and the Eagles allowed 10 second-chance points. VMI shot 47 percent from the field in the first half and also struggled behind the arc at 3-for-13.
Covington recorded a double-double as he led all scorers with 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to go along with six blocks. Peterson was 4-for-17 from the field but finished with 16 points while Glasgow added 13 points.
The Eagles will remain at home for their next contest as they host Radford on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. VMI will remain on the road as it takes on UNC Asheville at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
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