WINTHROP — With new names in new places, the Winthrop boys basketball team is still trying to figure out what it does well.

A span of four minutes at the end of the third quarter against Monmouth Academy provided the Ramblers with a pretty good idea.

Winthrop went on a 13-2 run at the end of the period Wednesday night, taking command of a three-point contest and sending the Ramblers on their way to a 49-35 victory over the Mustangs in a matchup of Mountain Valley Conference rivals.

It wasn’t perfect, coach Todd MacArthur pointed out. But for a team still working on filling the holes left by the departures from last season’s Class C state finalist, there was plenty to like.

“We’re still trying to find our identity, and that’s going to be a roller coaster ride. So the moments of looking really good, and then the moments of looking really bad, we’ve got to find a middle zone and show some consistency,” he said. “I know there are some definite things I liked. I thought when we had some possessions where we really needed to get it inside once we got some reversals, we had some success.”

Winthrop improved to 3-0, while Monmouth, looking to rebound from last year’s 5-13 season, fell to 1-2.

“We played hard, we battled. They have nine, 10 really good athletes, good basketball players. They’re well-coached, and they make you earn everything you get,” Monmouth coach Wade Morrill said. “We definitely have some areas to improve, but I think this is a nice building block game for us to see how we stack up against the best.”

The Mustangs were stacking up just fine when a Devon Poisson (11 points) free throw cut Winthrop’s lead to 36-33 with 4:18 to play in the third. It was just the start of a Winthrop surge, however, one that began when Beau Brooks (nine points) buried a jumper and then a pair of free throws to push the lead to 41-33.

A pair of Poisson free throws seemed to hinder the Winthrop momentum, but Nate LeBlanc (14 points, seven rebounds) and Sam Figueroa (10 points) buried back-to-back 3-pointers, and LeBlanc knocked down two of three free throws after being fouled on a buzzer-beating try to send the Ramblers to the locker room with a suddenly daunting lead.

“I just think we brought a lot of intensity,” LeBlanc said. “Once one person brings it, we keep feeding off of it. And then once we have everyone intense, we play a lot better as a team and as a unit.”

The offense was helped out by an uptick in pressure, with halfcourt traps forcing Monmouth into four turnovers during the run.

“That’s what we are,” MacArthur said. “We like to fast break, we like to cause havoc, cause turnovers, and then we like to play inside-out basketball. If we can do those things consistently, we’re a pretty tough team.”

Winthrop built on the lead in the fourth quarter, eventually going up 20 before Monmouth scored 11 of the game’s final 16 points.

“I think they’re better conditioned than our team,” Morrill said. “You could see our legs start to go. We’ve got to coach a little bit better and get better conditioned.”

Winthrop’s versatility, an asset last season, proved itself to be one again. Four players scored nine or more points, with the high scorer being Cam Wood, who totaled 17 while also gathering nine rebounds and providing a crucial post presence.

“That’s our key. We need to work together as a team,” Wood said. “We can’t just (rely) on one guy going out and scoring 40 a night.”

Even with the win, Wood echoed his coach’s belief that the team’s performance wasn’t its best effort.

“Definitely not,” he said. “I think we can play better than what we showed. We’re definitely way better than what we showed.”

For the first half, Winthrop had its hands full. The Ramblers took a 7-2 lead but then fell behind 9-8, and had trouble shaking the Mustangs for the next two quarters. A Wood three-point play put Winthrop ahead 24-17 with 3:38 to go in the first half, but Monmouth, fueled by a Dylan Lajoie 3-pointer and Evan Burnell putback with a second to go, scored nine of the final 13 points to narrow the halftime deficit to a tight 28-26 margin.

“We did do some things pretty well tonight,” Morrill said. “Defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job containing some of their shooters and slowing Cam Wood there, really until the end of the third quarter.”

That was when Winthrop began to look like the team MacArthur has been hoping to see. Now he just hopes he’ll see it more often.”

“It wasn’t our best night, but it wasn’t our worst night,” he said. “They haven’t really played together. We have to make sure it becomes solidified, because I can’t use that excuse eight games from now.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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