A record crowd of 1,254 fans turned out for Winthrop’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament game with Florida, but fans were not enough to lift the Eagles past a hot-shooting Gator team that advanced to the WNIT Sweet Sixteeen with a 85-53 win at the Winthrop Coliseum on Monday night.
Florida improves to 20-14 and advances to a Wednesday night date at Charlotte. The Gators placed five players in double figures and shot 52 percent from the field (32-62) to advance to Wednesday night’s game at Charlotte. January Miller led the balanced Gator scoring attack with 16 points while Christin Mercer and Kayla Lewis scored 15 each. Sydney Moss and Jaterra Bonds pitched in with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Winthrop was held to 33 percent shooting (22-66) by a quick and long-armed Florida defense that gave the Eagles fits with their halfcourt traps. The Eagles were led by Dequesha McClanahan with 15 points while senior Diana Choibekova closed out her Winthrop career with 11 points. Freshman Schaquilla Nunn found the going particularly tough as the 6-3 center did not have a field goal attempt and finished with two points on free throws.
“I want to thank each and every fan who came out tonight to help us set a new attendance record,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook. “I wish we could have given a closer game, but it was a positive year for us as we set a new record for single season wins, we were able to record our first-ever post-season victory in a tough environment. But tonight we just ran into a better ball club that shot the ball very well and were strong at every position from a physical standpoint. They just wore us down,” he said.
After falling behind 8-2 in the opening three minutes, Winthrop outscored Florida 12-2 over a two-minute stretch to take a 14-10 lead with 14:14 left in the period after Taylor Calvert scored on back-to-back buckets inside. The Gators responded with a 14-0 run to take a 24-14 lead as they nailed four straight 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions in less than two minutes.
Winthrop cut the deficit to three when Calvert, who finished the game with 9 points, scored on another layup to make it a 26-23 game with 6:35 remaining. Florida then went to work again as it closed the first half on a 18-5 run behind seven points from Lewis, five from Miller and four by Moss to take a 44-28 lead at intermission. The Gators scored 18 points in the first half off Winthrop’s 12 first half turnovers.
Florida struck first in the second half on a put back by Mercer and upped its margin to 22 points with 16:18 left in the game when Moss connected on a 15-footer from the left elbow to make it a 54-32 Gator lead. The margin increased to 35 at 78-43 with 7:42 left on a baseline jumper by Lewis, but Florida was content not to run up the score and settled for the final 32-point win.
Florida, a team that came into the game shooting 32 percent from behind the arc finished the night with 9 of 18 field goals from 3-point land while Winthrop was limited to 4 of 23 from long distance. The Gators also won the battle of the boards 44-36 behind a game-high 11 by Moss. Winthrop was led by Nunn with nine rebounds.
“As i told the team, I want them to take a little break. They deserve it,” said Cook. “For myself and the staff next season starts tomorrow. They are tireless workers and we will not let up until we get to where we want to be. We will not let this game set us back. We will not let this game take away from the kind of season that we had,” he said.