Winthrop University’s women basketball team kept itself in every game this season, hanging tough with eventual No. 1 seed South Carolina and knocking off perennial Big South heavyweight Liberty.
Once the Eagles got to their first NCAA tournament, though, Winthrop was no match for Duke.
Big South player of the year Dequesha McClanahan scored 22 points but the Blue Devils routed the Eagles 87-45 on Saturday in the first round.
“Cinderella wanted a couple more dances,” Winthrop coach Kevin Cook said, “but unfortunately, we’ve got to go back to Rock Hill and begin anew for next year.”
Samiya Wright had 12 points for the 15th-seeded Eagles (24-9), whose previous worst loss was by 11 to Liberty.
Winthrop kept it within eight points against eventual No. 1 seed South Carolina – but had no answers for a Duke team that improved to 21-1 in tournament games at Cameron Indoor Stadium with 20 straight wins there.
“We’re 0-1” in the tournament, Cook said. “But we'll be back.”
Tricia Liston scored 20 points and freshman Oderah Chidom added a season-high 17 points for the second-seeded Blue Devils (28-6).
Duke didn’t miss a beat in its first game in nearly two weeks: The Blue Devils never trailed, shot 54 percent and led by double figures for the final 33 1/2 minutes in winning their 21st straight NCAA tournament opener.
Duke built a 49-23 rebounding advantage and held Winthrop to 27 percent shooting – 21 percent in the decisive first half – to advance in the Lincoln Regional bracket.
Referring to Duke’s superior depth, especially in the low post, Cook said it “seemed like the French Foreign Legion to me.
“They just keep bringing them in,” Cook said.
Freshman Kendall McCravey-Cooper added a season-best 14 points and 10 rebounds. Peters had 11 points and Williams scored 10 for Duke, a No. 2 seed for the fifth straight year.
Duke shot 55 percent in the first half and used an early 15-3 run – jump-started by consecutive three-pointers by Liston less than a minute apart – to push its lead into double figures. The Blue Devils closed the half with 12 straight points after Winthrop had cut the lead to 12.
Richa Jackson’s steal and layup with 33 seconds left before the break made it 41-17 at halftime.
McClanahan finished her career with 2,277 points and 744 assists and is the Winthrop’s and the Big South all-time record-holder for points (2,277) and assists (744). Samiya Wright also reached a career milestone as the red-shirt junior surpassed 1,000 career points with 1,011, scoring 12 points against the Blue Devils.
In his postgame remarks, Cook answered a reporter's question about Duke being able to bring a cavalcade of big people into the game and how Nunn's second foul affected his team's play by saying, "You've got that right. Cavalcade? It seemed like the French Foreign Legion to me. They were bringing them in waves. One of my concerns, was that Schaquilla (Nunn) would get into early foul trouble. In previous games, when she has picked up her second foul, we don't like to gamble with a third – we stayed consistent to that. We haven’t had 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3 coming at you, so it impacted us greatly on the defensive end."
McClanahan said rebounding was the difference in the game.
"They crashed the boards really well," McClanahan said, who led Winthrop with six rebounds. "They were a big group of girls and we expected that. We didn't crash as well as we wanted to. I thing that's what separated us. They got a lot of second chance points and easy baskets."
Reflecting on her career at Winthrop McClanahan said, "It's clear from our history. The stats show it, the records show it how much time we've put into this program from our freshman year to now.
“I'm just very proud of what we've accomplished and what we've established. To leave a last impression, I wanted everyone to see our hard work and how far we've come."
Over the past four seasons, Winthrop compiled a 75-55 record, including back-to-back 20-win seasons and a 45-21 record and two postseason appearances the last two seasons.