March 16, 2007
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – When Craig Bradshaw arrived at tiny Winthrop four years ago, fellow freshman Torrell Martin told his New Zealander teammate he needed a lesson.
On how to dance.
“I told him this was America. Get a little swagger,” Martin said, laughing.
The Winthrop guys all have it now. They beat Notre Dame.
Bradshaw scored 24 points and Martin added 20 and a career-high 11 rebounds as previously hollow Winthrop beat the hallowed Irish 74-64 Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The 11th-seeded Eagles, who had been 0-6 in previous tournament tries, blew all of their 20-point lead in the second half before surging in the final two minutes to end Notre Dame’s first NCAA appearance since 2003.
“We’ve been trying to get this for the last three years,” Bradshaw said in his Kiwi accent.
Winthrop (29-4), the little school from Rock Hill, S.C., and the unheralded Big South Conference, lost in the final seconds to Tennessee last year in the tournament. The Eagles came from that defeat – and a frenetic Irish rally in this game – to advance in the Midwest Regional.
When this win finally came, Winthrop players leaped up-and-down as if on pogo sticks. They pounded their chests toward their hundred or so delirious fans seated across from their bench.
The rest of the crowd roared for the not-so-little men finally breaking through. Winthrop’s only losses this season are to North Carolina and fellow ranked, tournament teams Wisconsin (in overtime), Maryland and Texas A&M.
“I’m still in awe,” Martin said, about 30 minutes after the game. “I’m on Cloud 10.”
On the bus ride to the arena, Martin had told his teammates in an impassioned, impromptu speech: “We as Winthrop cannot lose again and be considered a good, mid-major team. We’d be a fluke team that can only win its weak conference.”
No flukes. No more.
The win wasn’t so much an upset as a long-awaited next step in the maturation of coach Gregg Marshall’s nine-year basketball revival at the school of 6,600 students.
Last June, Marshall accepted the College of Charleston’s offer to become its head coach – for almost twice his Winthrop salary of about $500,000. But 24 hours later, he said “No, thanks,” and stayed on course with his below-the-radar Eagles.
Good move. Charleston is home. Never even made it into the tournament after a 22-11 season. And Marshall is one win from the NCAA regional semifinals with a team starting three seniors and two juniors.
“It’s huge for me personally,” Marshall said, while his players fielded congratulatory phone calls and text messages in the locker room. “It’s huge for these players. It’s huge for our league, huge for the state of South Carolina.
“It’s nine years of putting your heart and soul into something and being close in the past.”
The Irish, led by 14 points from Colin Falls, stormed back from 54-34 down to take a 63-62 lead with 2:21 left. But then it was all Winthrop.
“My season is over. My career is over. We’re done,” an angry, stone-faced Russell Carter said inside the Irish locker room, where words were as hard to come by as consolation smiles.
Notre Dame (24-8) won its most games since 1974.
Carter, an All-Big East player and the Irish’s leading scorer, shot just 6-for-15 – including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.
Coach Mike Brey lamented a 37-10 run by Winthrop from the end of the first half into the second that erased Notre Dame’s 24-17 lead.
In that span, Bradshaw – at 6-foot-10 taller than any Notre Dame player – moved wherever he pleased inside. Many of his 24 points came within eight feet of the basket.
Bradshaw, who said he sent his game tapes as a high schooler far away to Winthrop just because, is often a 3-point shooter.
“We were back on our heels,” Brey said. “We looked young. They looked old.”
But Winthrop made just three free throws over eight minutes, and the Irish closed to within 57-56 on a putback by Carter off an airballed 3.
Notre Dame took the lead on Luke Harangody’s turnaround. He was fouled on the play, but missed the ensuing free throw.
Then the Eagles soared again, scoring eight of the next 10 points. Bradshaw’s shot inside and Chris Gaynor’s second 3-pointer in three tries put the Eagles up 67-63 with 1:30 to go.
After Irish freshman point guard Tory Jackson made one of two free throws, Michael Jenkins pushed the ball to Bradshaw for a sprinting dunk and one of his 11 assists. That gave the Eagles a 70-64 lead with 35 seconds left and essentially ended Notre Dame’s season.
The Eagles scored the first 10 points of the second half, five by Martin. After his 3-pointer that put Winthrop up 39-28 and forced a time out by Notre Dame with 18:27 left, Martin tapped both temples and flew his hands in the air.
Two minutes later, Gaynor, a 5-foot-10 guard, blocked a putback try by Notre Dame’s 6-9 rebounding leader Rob Kurz. Jenkins finished the break the other way with a deft bounce pass behind his back that found Martin in stride for a dazzling layup. The arena erupted with ooohhs and cheers, and Winthrop had erupted for a 46-30 lead with 16 minutes remaining.