COLUMBIA — Winthrop coach Kevin Cook saw his players snoozing on the team bus during the hour drive to South Carolina’s campus.
“Maybe we should’ve set the alarm for the tipoff,” he said Friday.
Might’ve been a good idea because the Eagles (6-3) fell behind 14-0 less than five minutes in and eventually trailed by 19 in the opening half of a 69-61 defeat at No. 10 South Carolina during a matinee game on Friday.
“In the end, we just spotted them too much. We got down 19 and doggone it, if we had the first seven minutes to play over again,” Cook said. “Can we do that, guys? I guess there’s no redos. That’s the way it goes.”
Dequesha McClanahan and Erica Williams had 19 points each to lead the Eagles. Taylor Calvert added 11 points of 4 of 5 shooting.
Winthrop of the Big South Conference made a spirited comeback in the second half, rallying to trail 61-57 on Schquilla Nunn’s put back of a missed shot with 3:30 left. That’s where the Eagles’ run stalled, in large part because of an offensive foul, her fifth, called on the team’s leading scorer McClanahan with under three minutes left.
“Yeah, that call could’ve went either way. I wish she’d have been shooting free throws,” Cook said. “But (the officials) did a good job officiating the game. The bottom line was we just dug too deep a hole.”
South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell scored 20 points, including a crucial basket to thwart Winthrop’s late charge. On Wednesday night, Mitchell struggled along with her teammates in going 4 for 13 from the floor in a 74-66 loss to No. 14 North Carolina, the first defeat of the season for the Gamecocks (10-1).
Mitchell was on target against the Eagles, though, making 7 of 9 field goals. Four of those were 3-pointers, including one where she got fouled and converted the free throw for a four-point play.
Her basket late in the game helped the Gamecocks increase the lead to eight points. The Eagles could get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
“I think (coach Dawn Staley) is most comfortable when we need big shots to put the ball in my hand,” said Mitchell, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard. “Not necessarily to have me shooting the ball, but to get people open as well.”
The Gamecocks looked like they’d make easy work of Winthrop in the noon game, rushing out to a 14-0 lead in front of grade-school children on holiday break. Instead, Winthrop rallied back.
“I actually think we relaxed a little bit on them and they came and slapped us in the face,” Tiffany Davis said. “Kind of unexpected.”
Williams’ jumper with 4:34 left drew Winthrop to 59-55. Mitchell then added a bucket to increase South Carolina’s lead.
Schaquilla Nunn’s put-back brought Winthrop within four points before Asia Dozier’s two foul shots and Mitchell’s jumper extended the margin to 65-57 with 1:55 to play.
While the Gamecocks held a strong height advantage, Winthrop did its best to keep up. The Eagles had as many offensive boards as South Carolina in the opening half and just one more turnover (10) than their opponents.
Winthrop forced the Gamecocks into a season-high 20 turnovers.