ESTERO, Fla. — The Winthrop Eagles advanced to the second round of the WNIT on Thursday night, thoroughly outplaying Florida Gulf Coast for a 65-51 win.
The reward: a second-round home game against Florida on Monday.
A season that seemed so promising for Florida Gulf Coast’s women just two weeks ago came to a thrashing halt in eerily silent Alico Arena.
Coming off a stunning 70-64 loss against Stetson in the Atlantic Sun tournament title game on March 9, FGCU (27-7) looked to rebound in its fourth appearance in the WNIT.
“We wanted to make a run in this thing, we thought we had a team that could make a run,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “But the more I watched Winthrop on tape, I was like, ‘Wow, this team has got some pieces – they’re going to be really dangerous. Their zone is really active, and we’re going to have to shoot the ball well.’”
FGCU’s Eagles didn’t.
Against a zone that was able to smother the 3-point line and pack the paint and lanes with bigger players such as 6-foot-3 freshman center Schaquilla Nunn, FGCU shot just 29.5 percent from the field and made just 12 of 44 3-pointers (27.3 percent).
Had FGCU won, it would’ve hosted Florida, which won, 75-68, at Florida International, Monday night. Instead, Winthrop (21-11), of the Big South Conference, won its first postseason game and will host Florida.
“All the credit goes to the players,” Winthrop coach Kevin Cook said. “We suffered a tough loss in the Big South tournament (79-67 to Longwood in a quarterfinal). We bounced back with a great week of practice and a determination.
“I thought our defense was really good tonight. I liked our movement and communication. We had a few breakdowns, but that’s to be expected. (FGCU) spreads you out and they are really good.”
FGCU held a 26-25 halftime lead, but Nunn missed most of that with two fouls. With Nunn back in business, Winthrop dominated inside on both ends while junior point guard Dequesha McClanahan, the two-time Big South Player of the Year, and company often blew by FGCU.
McClanahan led Winthrop, which used just six players, with a game-high 19 points. Nunn had 17 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Junior forward Sarah Hansen, the 5-foot-11 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, led FGCU with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“They had a lot of really good players,” Hansen said. “They had a good team and came in prepared. They came out playing hard in the zone, and they packed the paint. We weren’t knocking the shots down we usually knock down. All credit to Winthrop. It’s tough when you can’t score on the pressure like they gave us tonight.”
Nunn began a 10-point run that pushed Winthrop up 46-38 with 12:15 left. A seven-point run in which Nunn had four made it 53-42 with 8:54 remaining.
After FGCU freshman Jaime Gluesing hit a trey to make it 55-48 with 5:45 left, Winthrop continued its offensive clinic.
Winthrop shot 45.5 percent from the field, outrebounded FGCU by six and had three less turnovers.
“Credit to Winthrop,” said FGCU senior point guard Brittany Kennedy, the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year, between tears. “They executed in the second half when they got the big girl (Nunn) back in there.
“We just weren’t able to get enough stops and scores on the other end.”