Craig Bradshaw's wide open lay-up with 2:09 to play gave Winthrop a one-point advantage and the Eagles didn't relinquish the lead again en route to a 74-64 victory over Notre Dame in Spokane, Washington. The Eagles, who earned their first win in tournament history, will play the winner of the Oregon-Miami (OH) contest on Sunday in the Midwest bracket. In the loss, the Irish finished the year 24-8 but the sting of being upset early in the NCAA Tournament will now sit with the group for the off-season.
Winthrop had this game won halfway through the second half. The Eagles, up 32-28 at halftime, came blazing out of the locker room. Winthrop hit seven of their first eight shots after halftime and eventually took a commanding 54-34 lead. The total run, starting at the end of the first half, was 35-8 in favor of the Eagles. They were hitting three-pointers, lay-ups and fast break buckets. The Notre Dame defense looked perplexed at the onslaught of points.
The Irish got back into the contest with a run of their own. Down 20 points with 12:39 to go, Notre Dame outscored Winthrop 31-8 in the next ten minutes of action. It culminated when Luke Harangody's basket with 2:21 remaining. The run was a stunning reversal of events. The Eagles were dominating the contest but hurt themselves with numerous missed free throws and turnovers. The Big South Conference champions missed the front ends of one-and-ones and went into a passive offensive strategy, benefiting the Notre Dame surge.
Winthrop, who has hung with the likes of North Carolina and Wisconsin this season before losing at the end, didn't fold this time. Bradshaw's lay-up put them back up 64-63. The 6-10 New Zealand native was too much for the Notre Dame defense. He scored 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
On the next possession, the two outgoing seniors could not make a shot to give the Irish the lead again. Colin Falls was off the mark on a three-pointer and Russell Carter could not convert the putback. Winthrop came down and found Chris Gaynor for a three-pointer to push the Eagles advantage to 67-63. On the day, Falls led Notre Dame in scoring with 14 points but shot just 6-of-16. Carter wasn't much better, going for 12 points on 6-of-15 from the field. As a team, the Irish were only 4-of-22 from three-point range and a miserable 4-of-13 from the free throw line.
The nail in the coffin was a late miss from Tory Jackson. The freshman point guard couldn't hit a three-pointer with 32 seconds remaining and Winthrop up 70-64. In his first tournament game, Jackson ended the day with nine points on just 3-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 from the charity stripe. Rob Kurz added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Zach Hillesland contributed 10 points in 31 minutes of action.