In the end, it was the kind of play that Winthrop women’s basketball fans have been watching senior guard Dequesha McClanahan run for the past four seasons.
With 15:20 left in the second half against a gritty College of Charleston (1-1) team, junior guard Samiya Wright was patrolling the right edge of the lane, looking for a route to the hoop. She spotted forward Zoe Vernon holding up a defender on the free throw line. Vernon quickly slid the ball to McClanahan on the left side, where all the magic began.
After a few dribbles, McClanahan turned on the jets against three Cougars, driving deep into the paint. Drawing just enough contact from Charleston’s Mikaela Hopkins was the hard part. The easy part was watching her acrobatic layup fall in for the senior’s 1,700th career point.
McClanahan (17 points, 11 rebounds) said she had no idea that her shot, which would propel the Eagles (1-0) to a 67-49 season-opening win Sunday afternoon, was the one that broke a 25-year-old career scoring record last held by Kim Segars (1,699 points from 1985-89).
“I didn’t know it at all at the time, but it was nice to hear the fans behind me,” McClanahan said. “I wasn’t too focused on that, but I was happy to get the win.”
She and sophomore forward Schaquilla Nunn (12 points, 14 rebounds) recorded double-doubles in Winthrop’s first return to the court since their historic first WNIT victory in March. Freshman Erica Williams, who shot 7 of 15, nearly stole the show, leading all scorers with 18 points and nine rebounds in the comfortable victory, their third consecutive season-opening win.
“It was a big team effort here,” said head coach Kevin Cook, in the postgame press conference. “We really pushed the ball on every occasion. This was a tremendous victory for our program… and I couldn’t be prouder of our players.”
Heading into the halftime break, Winthrop looked devoid of the offensive firepower that netted them a second-place finish in the Big South Conference last year. The Lady Eagles converted just two of their last 15 shooting opportunities in the final eight minutes of action in the opening half, allowing the Cougars to cut a skinny Winthrop lead to one.
An inspired second half performance by Williams and McClanahan quickly changed the game as Winthrop jumped out to an early 37-31 lead off of smart free-throw shooting from Nunn. McClanahan’s historic layup added to a 19-5 streak for the Lady Eagles, five minutes after the break.
“This young lady is a special lady and a special person,” Cook said of McClanahan. “She has matured beyond belief. She makes every good decision on the court and doesn’t care about the accolades, she just wants to win.”
Cougars head coach Natasha Adair gave 14 of her players time on the floor, but couldn’t overcome a woeful day of shooting, just 8 of 46 (17.4 percent), while giving away 13 turnovers. Williams scored 10 of her 18 points in the final 15 minutes to ice a victory that will set Winthrop up nicely for a possible return to postseason basketball.
Cook said he expected his freshman to perform well on her collegiate debut. But just how well?
“About like that,” Cook said of Williams’ 35-minute display. “If she makes all her free throws, she’d make 25 points tonight, easily.”
“I know she had it in there,” added McClanahan. “We just needed that game to show she had her best in her and get that boost. When the focus is one me, the (opposition) doesn’t pay attention to me, so that’s a good thing.”
Winthrop heads to Davidson Friday evening to take on the Southern Conference team that finished 22-13 (16-4) last year. The Wildcats hold a 10-4 all-time series record against Winthrop.