Winthrop beats Coastal to earn NCAA bid

Mantoris Robinson scored 14 points and Winthrop used its smothering defense to win another Big South Conference title, 64-53 over Coastal Carolina on Saturday.

The Eagles (19-13) have built a dynasty in the Big South, reaching their fifth NCAA tournament in six years and ninth since 1999. It was the second time in three years they have gone to an opponent’s home floor to win the league tournament.

After forcing a shot clock violation, Reggie Middleton’s bucket with 9:49 to go put No. 3-seeded Winthrop ahead for good. The Eagles outscored the Chanticleers 26-17 the rest of the way.

Chad Gray had 16 points to lead Coastal Carolina (28-6), which shot just 36.5 percent from the floor. The team’s leading scorer, Joseph Harris, was held to three points.

Winthrop coach Randy Peele got a big hug as the buzzer sounded. The long-time asssistant has taken the foundation built by Gregg Marshall and kept things going, which has been especially gratifying after the Eagles finished an uncharacteristic fifth in the Big South last season and started 5-9 this year.

The Chanticleers led 20-15 with nine minutes to go in the first half and appeared to be pulling away. Winthrop cranked up the defense, though, holding Coastal Carolina scoreless for seven minutes.

By halftime, the Chanticleers led by just two.

Coastal Carolina took another five-point lead at 34-29 with 13:15 left, but Robinson hit a free throw and buried a 3, and the Chanticleers never led by more than three again.

Matt Morgan added 12 points and Andy Buechert had eight rebounds for the Eagles.

Logan Johnson added 10 points for Coastal Carolina, who will get a bid to the NIT for winning the Big South regular-season title. It was just the second winning season for the Chanticleers since their last trip to the NCAA tournament in 1993.

As time wound down, a Winthrop fan held up a sign that said "Bring on John Wall," Kentucky’s talented freshman. The Eagles won’t shy away from anyone. They upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame in 2007 and took No. 2 seed Tennessee to the buzzer the year before.

And the Eagles know they are the Big South’s big dog. As the buzzer sounded, they sprinted to the student section at tiny 1,037-seat Kimball Arena, popping their uniforms as the crowd threw trash at them.

This was a rematch of the 2006 title game that Winthrop also won, beating Coastal Carolina 51-50. In that one, the Eagles held the Chanticleers’ best player to 1-of-16 shooting.

The defense clamped down again Saturday, holding first-team Big South forward Harris to just 1-of-6 shooting and five rebounds, just half his season average.