Winthrop was seconds away from sending its 2006 first round NCAA Tournament game with Tennessee to overtime in its attempt to become the third-ever 15-seed to pull off an upset.
Then Tennessee guard Chris Lofton ruined the Eagles’ season. A fall-away jump shot off a sideline inbounds pass made the Eagles were the victim a 63-61 loss.
Eagles head coach Greg Marshall was offered the job at the College of Charleston but looked at his roster, laden with four returning starters, and returned to his office in Rock Hills, S.C.
But, after their near victory, ESPN’s Digger Phelps took his highlighter and proclaimed Winthrop the most feared mid-major to face in the NCAA Tournament. The secret was out—the only thing left for the Eagles in 2006-2007 was to disappoint.
Winthrop’s three losses have all been close, on the road, and against top-15 opponents: a 73-66 loss to North Carolina in the Preseason NIT, a 71-60 defeat to Maryland and 82-79 overtime loss at Wisconsin. On December 4th, Winthrop was an open three-point shot away from doing something no other non conference team has done in two years: defeating the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
Winthrop’s Torrell Martin hit seven 3-pointers but missed one at the end of regulation, and Wisconsin used a 10-2 run in overtime to escape with an 82-79 victory.
“I had a great shot,” Martin said in the post game press conference. “I just didn’t knock the shot down. It was about as open as I could get. I just didn’t follow through.”
Martin and sidekick Michael Jenkins (shooting 48 percent from three-point range) give the Eagles a chance to bury any team in the country from beyond the arc. In the Wisconsin loss, Winthrop didn’t even have its starting point guard, turning to a walk-on true freshman to run its offense.
Starter Chris Gaynor was sidelined by a toe injury. Replacement DeAndre Adams started in place of Gaynor, but committed two early fouls and spent much of the first half on the bench. That forced Winthrop to go to walk-on freshman Kyle Moore, who averaged five minutes a game coming in.
While praising Moore for his play off the bench, Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall also noted he was in position to grab a rebound on Wisconsin’s last possession in regulation that could have sealed the win for the Eagles. “I’m not going to in any way diminish the effort and the poise and just the overall game that we played,” Marshall said. “We just couldn’t get a rebound.”
After beating SEC (Mississippi State) and CAA (Old Dominion) opponents, Winthrop’s next biggest test with be Jan. 2 when Marshall takes his squad into College Station for matchup with 13th-ranked Texas A&M. From there the Eagles once again head into Big South play as the prohibitive favorites to win both the regular season and conference tournament crowns, and one more chance at a Cinderella run in March.