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Winthrop women come to screeching halt in Big South tourney

The comeback was impressive, but it still wasn't enough.

Third-seeded Winthrop was upset in the first-round of the Big South Conference women's basketball tournament, dropping a 62-56 decision to Radford on Friday night.

"We know now we can't take anything for granted," Winthrop guard Dequesha McClanahan said. "We know now that every game has to be better than the last."

It was a reversal of last year's Winthrop upset, when the Eagles dropped second-seeded Radford in the first round.

"It's a new season," Radford coach Tajama Abraham-Ngongba said with a broad grin. "It didn't even come up."

Maybe not, but the way the Highlanders (16-14) turned this game around served as at least an accidental vengeance.

Radford built a 16-point lead early in the second half, only to watch Winthrop storm back to take the lead with a 23-4 run. Winthrop hadn't overcome a halftime deficit of more than six points this season (a home win against Campbell on Jan. 30).

But the late drought proved fatal, as Winthrop went four minutes without scoring down the stretch to let Radford back in.

"Obviously fighting back from 16 down, it was an incredible comeback," Winthrop coach Marlene Stollings said. "But we missed some chippies when we had a chance to extend our lead, and we couldn't overcome it."

Winthrop played with a short bench, with perimeter stars McClanahan, Diana Choibekova and Samiya Wright each playing 40 minutes (though McClanahan did come out for one prove-a-point possession).

They've played major minutes all season, but that appeared to take a toll this time.

The Eagles shot 28.6 percent from the field (20 of 70), and just 20 percent from 3-point range (6 of 30).

But there's a certain amount of missing you'll accept when you play Stollings' crank-it-up style.

Those missed layups, however, wasted a 56-43 rebounding advantage, and kept the Eagles from advancing to today's semifinal against host High Point.

Winthrop also turned the ball over 18 times, killing its chances to continue the season.

The loss dampens some of the enthusiasm built this season for the Eagles (18-13), who reversed last season's 13-18 record, but even in the moments after the loss, Stollings found much to be proud of.

They swept the league's postseason honors (Stollings coach of the year and McClanahan player of the year), and set school records for conference wins (12) while staying among the national leaders in offensive stats.

They'll lose senior post players TaQuioa Hammick and Kaitlyn Rubino, but Stollings said the disastrous way they lost this one would not tarnish their season.

"I don't think so," Stollings said. "Certainly we're disappointed, but it's not going to take away from the incredible year we had. We set a lot of records, with basically the same group as last year, so it was quite a turnaround.

"I don't think it takes away from the foundation we laid or the progress we made."

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