FORT MYERS, FL–Winthrop’s women made basketball history Thursday night as the Eagles downed Florida Gulf Coast 65-51 in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament to set up a second round home game against Florida next Monday night.
The win improves Winthrop to 21-11 on the season, the most victories for the Eagles in a season since they became a NCAA member in 1986, and it is also the first postseason victory for the program during that same time span. Winthrop is now 1-1 in WNIT games. FGCU, which won the Atlantic-Sun Conference regular season championship closes the year with a 27-7 record. The loss was just its second after winning 13 times in Alico Arena.
Trailing 26-25 at halftime to one of the nation’s top three-point shooting teams, Winthrop took over the game in the second half as Big South Freshman of the Year Schaquilla Nunn and Player of the Year Dequesha McClanahan led the offensive charge and the defense led by Aliyah Kilpatrick held FGCU to 27 percent shooting in the final frame and 29.5 percent for the game. Both Nunn and McClanahan claimed double-doubles. Nunn was saddled with two early fouls and scored just two points in the first half, but scored 15 in the second half and finished with 13 rebounds for her 14th double-double of the season. McClanahan played a solid game throughout, but especially in the second half when she orchestrated the offense and got the ball inside to Nunn. She finished with a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. Nunn connected on 7 of 11 from the floor while McClanahan was 7 for 14.
“I am so proud of this team and what they accomplished tonight,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook. “It was a double black jack night as we got our 21st win on the 21st day of the month. Our staff did a great job in dissecting what FGCU likes to do offensively and we had a good defensive game plan coming in.” FGCU came into the game averaging 9.3 three-pointers per game to rank second nationally and actually bettered that number as the Eagles finished with 12, but it took them 44 attempts to make that many.
The second half did not start off Winthrop’s way as FGCU’s Eagles jumped out to a 32-26 lead after back-to-back treys by Brittany Kennedy and Joyce Iamstrong and forced Cook to call a quick timeout. Following his instructions, Winthrop responded with a 14-3 run to take a 40-35 lead with 14:09 left in the game.
The game was tied for the last time at 35-35 when Nunn took over in the paint. She scored 11 of Winthrop’s next 15 points and when all was said and done, Winthrop led 50-42 with just under 10 minutes left in the game. Winthrop took its first double digit of the game when Diana Choibekova grabbed a loose ball and connected on a 15-footer to put the Eagles up 55-45 with 7:21 remaining. Jamie Gluesing nailed a three to make it a seven-point game again at 55-48, but FGCU would get no closer.
Winthrop opened the game with an aggressive zone against one of the nation’s top three-point shooting teams and it worked for the most part as the Eagles led 10-7 after Dequesha McClanahan scored on a short bank shot followed by a bucket by freshman Aliyah Kilpatrick who slipped along the left baseline for a layup. Winthrop built the advantage to five when McClanahan scored again in the lane followed by a 3-pointer by Kilpatrick to make it 15-10 at the 8:25 mark.
But Stephanie Haas outscored the Eagles 6-0 with a free throw, layup and three ball to give FGCU a 16-15 lead with 5:32 left in the period. Winthrop responded with a 6-0 run of its own to take its second five-point lead after Samiya Wright scored on back-to-back baskets followed by a short jumper by Kilpatrick to make it a 21-16 game at the 3:29 mark.
FGCU then outscored Winthrop 10-4 over the final 2:55 to enjoy the one-point halftime advantage. Sarah Hansen nailed her third triple to draw her team to within two points. Iamstrong followed with a drive to the basket to knot the game at 21-21. McClanahan scored on a tough put back to give the lead back to the Eagles at 23-21, but Haas rallied her team by connecting on a 3-pointer and layup to give FGCU a 26-25 lead at intermission.
Winthrop is now 19-2 on the season when holding its opponent to below 40 percent shooting. FGCU connected on 18 of 61 from the floor (29.5 percent) and 12 of those came from beyond the arc. With Nunn scoring at will in the paint, the Eagles shot 54 percent in the second half (14-26) and finished the game at 45.5 percent (25-55). The taller Winthrop team also won the rebound battle 42-36 with Nunn and McClanahan accounting for 25 of those.