SPOKANE, Wash. - 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. They’ll face third-seeded Oregon on Sunday.
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.”
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.
“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.
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