WINTHROP — Winthrop will be one of those teams no one wants to face in the Western Maine Class C tournament next month. The Ramblers are improving that quickly.
Thursday night, they put on a first-half defensive clinic against Monmouth, forcing 28 turnovers and riding that effort to a 47-36 victory. The Ramblers avenged a loss at Monmouth last month and are 7-5 in Mountain Valley Conference play. Monmouth is 4-7.
Winthrop’s man-to-man, full-court pressure rattled the Mustangs as they fell behind 19-8 in the first quarter and 29-15 at the half. In all, Monmouth committed 39 turnovers, most of those a product of Winthrop’s strong on-the-ball defense.
“We spend the majority of each practice working on our defense and individual defense,” Winthrop senior Hunter Kilgore said. “We let our defense turn into our offense.”
Winthrop point guard Taylor Morang, one of four sophomores who start for the Ramblers, spearheaded the team’s effort at both ends of the floor. The 5-foot-7 guard scored a game-high 16 points and recorded six assists and six steals.
“He’s a great on the ball defender and offensively he sets us up,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “We want to play fast.”
The Ramblers pulled away with two flurries in the first half. Dakota Carter ignited a 7-0 midway through the first quarter with a steal and layup and Morang capped it with a three-point play. At one point, the Mustangs committed six straight turnovers.
“They force a lot of turnovers, ” Monmouth coach Lucas Turner said. “It’s high intensity defense and we knew that coming. When we played (in Monmouth) we had 33 turnovers.”
Kilgore opened a 9-2 run spanning the first and second quarters with a 3 from the left side and followed with a jumper from nearly the same spot. Matt Sekerak capped the run with a layup to make it 21-8 and the Mustangs drew no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
They did pick up their defensive intensity in the quarter and held the Ramblers to four points, but they only managed six of their own. Billy Cummings and Drew McFarren led Monmouth with 12 points apiece but junior Brandon Goff managed just two points as he battled foul trouble throughout the game and eventually fouled out.
“We’re coming along,” Kilgore said. “We’re still young. We have two seniors, one junior and the rest are sophomores and freshmen. We’re not as big (as other teams), but we’re definitely quick and in your face.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638