Winthrop came close to winning in the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball Tournament, losing to Tennessee by two points. The year before that, the Eagles lost to Gonzaga by 10. They were 0-6 in NCAA Tournament play heading into the greatest moment in school history.
On March 16, 2007, Winthrop finally broke through. The Eagles upset No. 6-seeded Notre Dame 74-64 in a Midwest Regional first-round game.
After trailing by 20 points with 13:15 remaining in the game, the Fighting Irish rallied to take a one-point lead with 2:21 left. But the Eagles prevailed with a 12-1 closing run.
“We’ve been trying to get this one for the last three years,” said center Craig Bradshaw, a 6-foot-10 senior from New Zealand who represented his nation in the 2004 Olympics. “It’s a special moment.”
The Eagles also became the first Big South men’s basketball team to win an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The school’s website told the story:
SPOKANE, Wash. — Winthrop rained on Notre Dame’s St. Patrick Day parade plans as the No. 11-seeded Eagles upset the No. 6 Fighting Irish 74-64 in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional Friday afternoon in the Spokane Arena. The win was the first in the NCAA tourney for Winthrop after six previous trips.
Winthrop (29-4) will now advance to Sunday afternoon’s second-round game against No. 3 Oregon.
Senior Craig Bradshaw and Torrell Martin combined for 44 points in the historic win. Bradshaw scored a game-high 24 and pulled down six rounds. He connected on 10 of 16 field goals and threw down a dunk in the final seconds that shut the door on the Irish (24-8). Martin collected a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
The Eagles opened up a 32-28 halftime lead to as many as 20 at 54-34 as they outscored the Irish 22-6 in the opening 6:45 of the second half, but a six-minute scoring drought led to a 29-8 Notre Dame run that put the Irish ahead 63-62 with 2:21 left in the game.
Craig Bradshaw quickly regained the lead for Winthrop at 64-63 on layup off a feed from Michael Jenkins and the Eagles regained their composure in the final two minutes and outscored the Irish 12-1 in the final 2:09 to win going away 74-64, and set off a grand celebration among the players and the 100 or so fans who made the cross country trip to the Northwest.
“First of all, it’s a great day to be an Eagle,” said Winthrop head coach Gregg Marshall, who became the all-time winningest coach in the Big South Conference history. His record now stands at 194-82 in nine years. “It’s a wonderful occasion for these players, this program, this university and the community that we represent.”
“It’s been a long time coming. It looked very good midway through the second half. And then, all of a sudden, there was a leprechaun that was closing that rim and we couldn’t hit a free throw. But we made the plays. Once we got down one, these guys made the plays like they did all year long,” said Marshall.
Winthrop opened the game on a strong note and led 10-4 just 3:52 into the game on a 3-pointer by Chris Gaynor, but the Irish went on a 9-0 run to claim a 13-10 lead with 14:14 left in the first half.
Notre Dame built a 24-17 lead on a layup by Jonathan Peoples with 7:10 left in the period, but Winthrop fought back to reclaim the lead with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute by Taj McCullough and Michael Jenkins.
McCullough’s trey put Winthrop ahead 29-28 and Jenkins’ shot sent Winthrop to the locker room holding a 34-28 lead.
Above and on the cover: Winthrop’s Phillip Williams celebrates after the Eagles beat Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 2007, in Spokane, Wash. (Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Western Kentucky and Western Michigan
• Tuesday: William & Mary and Winthrop
• Wednesday: Wofford and Wright State
• Thursday: Yale and Zips (Akron)
• Friday: The Judge