Big-time players step up and make plays when their team needs them the most. The Winthrop Eagles had three players in particular step into that role Saturday at the Winthrop Coliseum. As a result, the Eagles survived their second game in three days with a limited number of healthy bodies to pull out a white-knuckle victory, 67-62, over the Radford Highlanders.
The win maintains Winthrop’s grip on second place in the Big South with two home games remaining before the conference tournament, and it tied the school record set last season with twelve conference victories in a season. The Eagles’ next game is Thursday night against Gardner-Webb.
"The last two teams we played had seven days to prepare for us and we withstood that," Winthrop coach Kevin Cook said. "I read somewhere in the paper that some coaches are calling this the dark days of February. It’s not dark for us and it’s because of these guys’ positive energy."
After leading 52-45 with 10 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the game, Winthrop had to survive a 10-0 run by the Highlanders that put them ahead 55-52 with senior Ashley Buckhannon’s three-pointer at the 6:35 mark. It was her fourth three of the game and she led Radford with 19 points.
"We just played through it," Cook said. "There was no stop in the action. That’s life. You got tough situations in life, you can’t always call timeout."
The Eagles’ big-time players responded. Junior guard Dequesha McClanahan tied the game with an old-fashioned three-point play after a fancy, scooping lay-up and foul the next trip down the court. With Radford leading by two and possession under their basket after the under-four timeout, McClanahan stole the long in-bounds pass near half-court and drove the distance herself to tie the game at 59. After a Radford miss, she buried a jumper at the other end to put Winthrop up 61-59.
On the Highlanders’ possession, senior guard Da’Naria Erwin Spencer had her shot smothered and snatched out of the air by freshman center Schaquilla Nunn, who also had 17 points and 11 rebounds, her 12th double-double this year.
"My main priority is the defensive end," Nunn said. "I just wanted to let my teammates know that I have their backs and I’m here if they need help."
McClanahan stroked another cold-blooded jumper for the Eagles and they led 63-59 as Radford called timeout with 1:22 left. McClanahan had a game-high 20 points for her 26th double-figure scoring game of the season. The clutch theme continued with 47.2 seconds left as junior guard Tiffany Charles stepped to the line for Winthrop to shoot one-and-one with a two-point lead. Charles, who had a season-high ten points, sank two shots and did the same with 8.7 seconds left to finish the five-point win.
"I knew we needed it to seal off the win, so I just took a deep breath and knocked them down," Charles said.
The two teams shot an almost identical percentage from the field and each had 14 turnovers, but the Eagles shot 16-for-19 from the free-throw line compared to just 3-for-10 for the Highlanders.
"They’ll tell you how many free throws we shoot in practice," Cook said as his players smiled and agreed.
Winthrop trailed by as many as six in the first half but rallied to lead 32-30 at halftime.
RADFORD (62): Buckhannon 7-15 1-4 19, Erwinspencer 8-14 0-0 18, Tabb 2-7 1-2 5, Hamilton 2-6 0-0 4, Gaymon 3-6 1-2 7, Gordon 2-4 0-0 4, Avery 1-6 0-0 3, Holmes 1-1 0-0 2.
WINTHROP (67): McClanahan 8-19 5-5 22, Nunn 8-11 1-2 17, Calvert 2-6 6-8 10, Kilpatrick 3-8 0-0 6, Wright 0-3 0-0 0, Charles 3-5 4-4 10, Porter 1-5 0-0 2.
3-pointers: Radford 7-18 (Buckhannon 4), Winthrop 1-6 (McClanahan). Rebounds: Radford 32 (Hamilton 7), Winthrop 35 (Nunn 11). Assists: Radford 11 (Buckhannon 5), Winthrop 13 (McClanahan 6). A-563