CONWAY, SC—Winthrop’s women knocked off Liberty 65-59 on Saturday night to advance to the title game of the 2014 Big South Conference Championship against top-seeded High Point at 5 p.m. Sunday in the HTC Center and aired on ESPN3.
Dequesha McClanahan and Erica Williams led the Eagles with 15 and 14 points, respectively, while Tiffany Charles came off the bench to once again spark the defense and scored a career-high 12 points to help Winthrop defeat the Flames for just the ninth time in 55 all-time meetings and advance to the title game for just the first time since 1996. Williams recorded her 10th double-double of the season as she led Winthrop with 10 rebounds.
The victory improves Winthrop to 23-8 while Liberty falls to 19-11. The 23 wins are now the most in the history of the program since it became a NCAA member in 1986.
Winthrop overcame poor shooting early in the game as it connected on just 1 of 13 shots in the opening six minutes, 53 seconds, but only trailed Liberty by 11-5 at the time. Following a timeout, the Eagles connected on five of their next seven shots and took a 17-16 lead when Samiya Wright connected on a three-pointer. After the slow start, Winthrop closed out the first half connecting on 13 of 22 field goals over the final 13 minutes and took a 34-26 lead at intermission.
“We shot awful,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook in response to a question about the early shooting woes. “We were getting good looks, and I told them to keep believing because I believed in them, and the shots would fall eventually. When you have a game of this magnitude, that (missing shots) is going to happen.”
After Wright’s three ball went down, Winthrop went on a 13-4 run to take its largest lead of the game at 30-20 with 2:38 left in the first half on back-to-back buckets by McClanahan. She knocked down a short jumper with 13 seconds remaining to give the Eagles the eight-point lead at intermission.
Wright hit another three in the opening two minutes of the second half to push the Eagle lead to nine at 37-28, but Liberty then went to work offensively. Katelyn Adams scored inside with 16:58 left to play, and that started a 13-3 run that sent the Flames back into the lead at 41-40 with 12:42 on the clock. Winthrop responded quickly as Calvert scored inside off a nifty pass from McClanahan to put the Eagles back on top to stay at 42-41.
Following two free throws by LU’s Mickayla Sanders at the 11:34 mark that trimmed Winthrop’s lead to one point at 44-43, McClanahan came up with a big basket for the Eagles on a 5-foot runner that just beat the shot clock to give her team a three-point advantage. Liberty got no closer than two points for the remainder of the game as the Eagles sealed the win by scoring 10 of its final 13 points from the free throw line.
“Our team showed great composure and great poise and again made real big free throws and big plays under pressure,” said Cook. “We didn’t get our daubers down like in the first two (Liberty) games when we had the big leads and they hit a couple of threes and we seemed to get deflated. Tonight we showed resolve, there was good chatter among the players. Again it was the experience of going through it.”
Winthrop shot 40 percent for the game (22-55) compared to 23 of 63 (36.5 pct.) for Liberty. The Eagles actually won the game at the free throw line as they connected on 16 of 23 while Liberty was 6 for 10. LU’s Sanders finished as the game’s leading scorer with 19 points while teammate Ashley Rininger had 16 and a game-high 11 rebounds.