ROCK HILL, S.C. (Alex Zietlow/Rock Hill Herald) - The Winthrop men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament.
The second-seeded Eagles won the Big South tournament championship on Sunday afternoon over Hampton, 76-68, at Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill. They had to overcome a deficit as large as 15 points in the first half, earning only their second lead of the game with just over 12 minutes to go in the game.
But come the final media timeout, the Winthrop contingent on its feet and Winthrop up, 58-53 — the game was the Eagles’ to lose. And they didn’t.
They were led by DJ Burns, who finished with 16 points, and Chandler Vaudrin, who finished with 10 points and four assists before fouling out with less than four minutes left in the game.
Winthrop’s season was one to remember before reaching Sunday’s summit: In the team’s first road trip of the season, it was thrust into the national spotlight with a win over nationally-ranked Saint Mary’s on the road. It followed that run up with a slew of performances typical of teams with many newcomers — which included a four-game skid that started immediately after Thanksgiving and lasted through most of December.
The Eagles caught fire come the middle of the year, ripping off 14-straight wins, but they headed into the Big South tournament losing three of their last six.
Come tournament time, though, the Eagles looked like their old selves — shooting well from deep but largely playing inside-out basketball.
In its win over Hampton, the Eagles only shot 20.8% from 3-point range but got plenty of offensive production from Winthrop redshirt freshman big man and Rock Hill native, Burns. The Eagles went up by as many as nine in the second half, but the Pirates wouldn’t go away.
Because of it, the game — and thus, Winthrop’s postseason plans — didn’t seem over until the final buzzer sounded in the Coliseum and the school’s students and fans stormed the court.
NEXT: Winthrop learns its postseason destination next weekend on Selection Sunday. The NCAA selection show begins at 6 p.m. March 15 and is broadcast on CBS.