Three-time Big South Player of the Year Dequesha McClanahan can now add Tournament MVP to her impressive resume after leading Winthrop to its first Big South Conference Championship in school history on Sunday with an 87-74 win over No. 1 seed High Point at the HTC Center.
The Winthrop senior guard recorded her ninth double-double of the season with a game-high 24 points and 13 rebounds. She also dished out six assists and made four steals. McClanahan, who will graduate this year as the all-time scoring and assist leader in Big South history, had her double-double at halftime with 15 points and 10 rebounds as she led a late surge to put Winthrop up 42-39 at the break.
Winthrop (24-8) made the most of its first championship game appearance since 1996, scoring the most points and notching the largest margin of victory in a Big South Championship title contest since 2005. That year, Liberty posted an 88-41 win over UNC Asheville.
In addition to Winthrop earning its first NCAA Tournament berth, the Eagles are the first team from a South Carolina institution ever to claim the Big South title. The Eagles will find out who their NCAA first round opponent will be on Monday, March 17, during the Women’s Selection Show.
McClanahan averaged a team-high 21.0 points during her team’s three tournament wins, which also included triumphs over No. 6 seed Coastal Carolina (77-58) and No. 2 seed Liberty (65-59), the two-time defending champion.
“What a game and what a tournament. I’m very proud of our players, this program and very thankful to our administration and all of our loyal fans and supporters that were here and suffered without a championship for over 30 years,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook. “That’s what really makes it meaningful for them and our team.”
Cook added, “This was not an easy day, where you have to spring ahead and lose and hour; it really effects you. For our players to play as hard as they did two days in a row without a lot of turnaround time, I’m just happy and happy for them.”
McClanahan was assisted by fellow all-tournament team member Erica Williams, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds on Sunday. Samiya Wright added 13 points and Tiffany Charles scored a dozen points for the victors, who shot 46.8 percent (29-of-62) from the field, including 55.2 percent (16-of-29) after halftime.
Big South regular season champion High Point falls to 22-10 after seeing its seven-game winning streak halted. The Panthers, now 0-4 in Big South Championship title contests all-time, will represent the Big South Conference in the WNIT for the third time.
High Point held Winthrop without a made field goal for a stretch of 4:31 early in the first half, going on a 12-1 run during that time. Stacia Robertson, who was High Point’s leading scorer with 18 points, had six points during the surge, including two free throws at 12:50 which posted the Panthers to a 16-9 lead. High Point extended its advantage to eight points twice, prior to an 11-2 Winthrop surge. McClanahan hit two foul shots which gave the Eagles a short-lived 29-28 advantage 4:52 prior to the intermission.
Post players Phelps and Jackson hit layups on High Point’s next two possessions, helping the Panthers quickly regain the momentum. Keys’ layup at 1:49 capped off a 10-2 Panthers spurt, giving her team a 38-31 edge. Winthrop then closed the opening half on an 11-1 run, taking a 42-39 halftime lead when Wright swished a triple from the right wing during the final seconds.
High Point made six-straight field goal attempts to open the second half but could not pull ahead of the Eagles, who also scorched the nets shortly after halftime. Winthrop made 11 of its first 14 second-half field goal attempts, including Wright’s fast break layup which gave the Eagles a 69-59 advantage with 11:10 to play.
The Panthers got no closer than seven points the rest of the way, and Winthrop led by as many as 15 points on their way to the 13-point win. The Eagles were solid at the free throw line down the stretch, connecting on 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) in the second half and 74.3 percent (26-of-35) for the game.
High Point held Winthrop without a made field goal for a stretch of 4:31 early in the first half, going on a 12-1 run during that time. Robertson had six points during the surge, including two free throws at 12:50 which posted the Panthers to a 16-9 lead.
High Point extended its advantage to eight points twice, prior to an 11-2 Winthrop surge. McClanahan hit two foul shots which gave the Eagles a short-lived 29-28 advantage 4:52 prior to the intermission.
Winthrop then closed the opening half on an 11-1 run, taking a 42-39 halftime lead when Wright swished a triple from the right wing during the final seconds.
Joining McClanahan and Williams on the All-Tournament Team were Keys and Robertson of High Point, and Angelica Henry from Coastal Carolina.