Schaquilla Nunn’s fantastic finish at the buzzer to send the game to overtime had the Winthrop Eagles set up for a happy ending Thursday night in their showdown with Big South Conference women’s basketball co-leader Liberty.
Unfortunately, the Flames had other ideas. Liberty scored the first seven points in the extra period and went on to a 77-70 victory over the Eagles in front of 446 fans at Winthrop Coliseum to take over sole possession of first place in the conference.
Nunn scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds and senior guard Dequesha McClanahan also scored 20 points as Winthrop (12-5, 6-2 Big South) had a three-game winning streak broken.
The Eagles appeared to have a new life after Nunn, stationed to the left of the basket on an in-bounds play with one second left, took a high lob from freshman forward Erica Williams and laid it gently off the backboard to end regulation tied at 62-62.
“It was something that coach (Kevin Cook) drew up at the last minute,” Nunn said. “It went just like we wanted it to. We just wanted to win this game so bad.”
But Liberty (11-6, 7-1) got a quick 3-pointer from freshman forward Mickayla Sanders to open overtime and the Eagles never got closer than that the rest of the way.
“I was proud of our effort,” Cook said. “I thought we had some momentum once we got into the overtime period, but give them credit for making big plays when they needed to make them. We were glad to have a couple of time outs and one last play in our pocket at the end of regulation.”
The Eagles, who had sprinted to as much as a 15-point lead in the first half and went to halftime up 38-31, lost that advantage when Liberty went on a 13-2 run to open the second half.
A Sanders 3-pointer gave the Flames a 44-40 lead four minutes into the half. Liberty’s largest lead in regulation came at 51-44 with 14 minutes to play on a 3-pointer by Reagan Miller.
But Winthrop didn’t fold, fighting off its own shaky free-throw shooting (19-of-33 for the game) to stay within striking distance. The Eagles scored the last four points in regulation after Emily Frazier hit a pair of free throws to put Liberty up 62-58 with 13 seconds left.
McClanahan broke free for a layup for a 62-60 score with nine seconds left, then Sanders missed a pair of free throws for Liberty that could have put the game out of reach. The Eagles got the ball to midcourt before the Flames knocked it out of bounds, setting up the last-second drama.
“We fought with a lot of energy and effort,” Cook said. “And we executed perfectly on the last play (of regulation). We were disappointed in the way things turned out, but make no mistake, this is just one game. And we’ve got to come back out on Saturday and play our best.”
Williams scored 13 points for Winthrop and Samiya Wright added 12. Taylor Calvert pulled down 11 rebounds for the Eagles.
Sophomore forward Ashley Rininger scored 20 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead a strong inside game for Liberty, which has won its last five games. The Flames outrebounded Winthrop 57-42.
Sanders and Miller added 17 points each.
NOTES: McClanahan continues her march toward 2,000 career points. She needs nine more to become the first Winthrop basketball player ever to reach that milestone. … The Eagles play host to Big South opponent Longwood at 1 p.m. Saturday at Winthrop Coliseum.