COLUMBIA, SC—After falling behind 14-0 to open its game against 10th ranked South Carolina, the Winthrop women’s basketball team fought its way back in the second half behind the scoring of Dequesha McClanahan and Erica Williams before falling 69-61 on Friday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena.
Winthrop drops to 6-3 on the season while the Gamecocks improve to 10-1. Winthrop has now lost its last five games against South Carolina, but still lead the all-time series 13-10.
McClanahan and Williams finished the game with 19 points each to lead the Eagles. McClanahan had 10 of her points in the second half before fouling out with just under three minutes remaining and dished out eight assists to become the all-time assist leader in Winthrop women’s history. She now has 599 career assists. Williams, a freshman forward, scored 15 of her points in the second half. Taylor Calvert added 11 points for Winthrop.
“I am very proud of the way our team fought back after getting down 14 to a very good basketball team,” said Winthrop coach Kevin Cook. “They are ranked No. 10 in the country, so that means we can’t be far behind.” The game was a reunion of sorts for Gamecock coach Dawn Staley and members of the Winthrop staff. Staley played for the WNBA’s Houston Comets while Cook served as an assistant and she coached Winthrop assistant Christena Hamilton at Temple from 2000 to 2004.
South Carolina started the game shooting lights and led 14-0 just four minutes and 30 seconds into the contest. Elem Ibiam, a high school teammate of Winthrop’s Schaquilla Nunn, scored six points in the paint while Asia Dozier had five in that early burst. McClanahan finally ended the drought for the Eagles with a 3-pointer at the 15:12 mark.
Winthrop opened the game in a 2-3 zone hoping to force South Carolina into shooting from beyond the three arc. That strategy worked, but what the Eagles weren’t counting on was five three balls by the Gamecocks in the first nine-plus minutes of the game. Dozier had two while USC’s leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell had three in the first half and finished the game with fiver and a game-high 20 points.
The Gamecocks shot 50 percent in each half and led by as many as 18 points three times in the first half. The last time came with 2:21 left in the period when Wilka Montout grabbed a Gamecock miss and dropped it in to give USC a 37-19 lead. Winthrop trailed 37-23 at intermission after Tiffany Charles banked in a 17-foot jumper and Williams made a layup with seven seconds on the clock.
South Carolina scored four quick points to begin the second half and go back up 18, but the final 18:34 of the game went advantage Winthrop as the Eagles outscored the Gamecocks 38-28 and cut the deficit to four points twice in the final five minutes.
After South Carolina opened up a 41-23 lead to begin the second half, Winthrop scored six unanswered points on a McClanahan jumper, a layup by Calvert and a catch and shoot bucket by Williams off a McClanahan alley oop to make it a 41-29 game. Mitchell responded by knocking down her fourth 3-pointer and then converting the free throw on a rare four-point play to give USC a 16-point advantage at 45-29.
Winthrop got to within 12 again at 50-38 with 12:48 left to play following a layup and a 3-pointer by former Gamecock Pamela Decheva, but Mitchell answered with her fifth three ball to make it a 15-point game at 53-38.
It was at this point of the game that Winthrop came alive and took advantage of a season-high 20 turnovers by the Gamecocks. The Eagles went on a 10-run to cut the deficit to five at 53-48. McClanahan started things with two free throws, followed by a short jumper by Williams, two more free throws by McClanahan, another jumper by Williams and then a layup by Calvert with 10:04 left in the game.
Winthrop continued to battle and got to within four points with just over four minutes left when Williams banked in a short jumper to make it 59-55. Mitchell and Nunn then traded baskets to keep it a four-point game with 3:32 on the clock, but the Eagles could get no closer in the final minutes as McClanahan fouled out.
After shooting just 30 percent in the first half (10-30), Winthrop was 14 of 29 in the second half and finished the game shooting 40.7 percent. South Carolina was 24 of 48 for the game for 50 percent. The Gamecocks won the rebound battle as well 34-30.
Winthrop will take an eight-day break from action before returning home on Dec. 28 at 1:00 p.m. to face Presbyterian College in a Big South contest.