For the first time in 20 years, the Winthrop women’s basketball team has beaten the Liberty Flames in back-to-back games. Winthrop beat the Flames in last season’s conference tournament, then shook off a slow start to take a 63-58 win Tuesday night at Winthrop Coliseum.
Erica Williams led all scorers with 23 points and Aliyah Kilpatrick added 20 for the Eagles (9-9, 5-4 Big South).
The loss snapped Liberty’s six-game win streak. The win put an end to Winthrop’s three-game skid.
Liberty’s last loss was to top-ranked South Carolina, 84-44, on a neutral court on Dec. 21, 2014. The Flames were voted the preseason favorite to win the Big South. It’s something Liberty is accustomed to achieving with 12 regular-season, and 12 tournament championships during coach Carey Green’s tenure.
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Winthrop coach Kevin Cook had his team focused on toughness in practices leading up to the game. His players did drills that “left skin on the floor.”
“We spent a lot of time diving on the floor,” Kilpatrick said. She had a pair of the Eagles 12 steals. Winthrop scored 23 points on the night off 18 Liberty turnovers.
“Coach Cook told us not to play the history of the (Liberty) jersey,” Williams said. “Just play them as any other team.”
Winthrop put itself in a hole with poor shooting – from the floor and the free-throw line. The Eagles missed nine of their first 10 shots and were 1-for-6 from the stripe leading to an early 11-3 deficit.
Winthrop took its first lead, 18-17, with 6:44 remaining in the first half. Williams hit a short jumper on an assist from Naima Jackson to finish off a fast break. Liberty guard Sadalia Ellis hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Flames back on top. Ellis was 4-of-5 from the floor and scored all of her 10 points in the first-half.
Williams had 14 first-half points as the Eagles trailed 31-28 at intermission.
Liberty (12-6, 8-1) had been limiting Big South opponents to 29 percent shooting coming into the game. Winthrop shot 57 percent in the second half and finished the game connecting at a 47 clip.
Winthrop knotted the game at 48-all with 9:51 left on a Kilpatrick jumper.
From that point, Liberty began forcing up shots. The Flames went 3-for-20 from the floor to end the game.
“In conference, you have to be able to defend your home court, “ Green said. “Winthrop did that. They played as the defending Big South champs.”
“The game is simple. We missed shots. They made shots,” Green went on. “Give Winthrop a lot of credit. Erica (Williams) and Kilpatrick made contested shots.”
Kilpatrick returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. She played 36 minutes against Liberty as Cook shortened his bench. Williams played all 40 minutes. Schaquilla Nunn (11 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 blocks) logged 39 minutes. Taylor Calvert and Samiya Wright played 36 and 35, respectively.
The Eagles host Presbyterian at 1 pm on Saturday.