CONWAY, S.C. – Dequesha McClanahan had 24 points and 13 rebounds to lead Winthrop to its first-ever Big South Conference tournament title and NCAA berth with an 87-74 victory over High Point on Sunday.
Big South player of the year McClanahan kept her career going as she rallied the Eagles (24-8) to a 17-7 run midway through the second half to take control and win in their first championship game appearance since 1996.
The Eagles knocked off league powerhouse Liberty — the Flames had won 15 of the previous 17 Big South tournaments — in the semifinals on Saturday night and eliminated the league's top seeded Panthers (22-10) in this one.
Stacia Robertson had 18 points and 10 rebounds for High Point, which fell to 0-4 n tournament finals.
McClanahan dribbled out the final seconds with a wide grin, pointed to the sky and screamed with joy before getting mobbed by teammates.
Erica Williams added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Eagles while McClanahan was voted the event's MVP.
Winthrop has long made its Big South basketball bones on the men's side of things, the Eagles arena featuring nine league championship banners won since 1999. Now, Winthrop's women's have one to call their own.
Earlier Sunday, Winthrop fell to Coastal Carolina 76-61 in the men's conference tournament finals.
High Point tied the game at final time at 52-all on Ashante Richard's inside bucket. Samiya Wright put Winthrop up for good with a basket before McClanahan scored the next six points. She had another bucket and a foul shot and Wright ended the charge with a jumper to put the Eagles up 69-59.
The biggest surprise coming in may have been that Liberty wasn't in it. But the Flames, seeded second, were ousted Saturday night by Winthrop, which overcame 1-of-13 shooting at the start to win 69-59 and reach their first conference tournament finals in 18 years.
High Point, the tournament's top seed, was likely a bit relieved it was the Eagles and not Liberty in the finals, since all three of the Panthers' Big South tournament finals ended with a loss to the Flames.
Winthrop was cold again in this first half and hit only one of its first nine three-point tries to trail High Point 38-31 with less than two minutes left in the opening half.
But the Eagles found their touch after that behind three-time Big South player of the year McClanahan for a 10-1 run to close the half.
McClanahan got it going with a bucket before Williams, Pamela Decheva and McClanahan each made two foul shots to tie things at 39-all. Samiya Wright ended the period with a 3-pointer to put Winthrop ahead 42-39.
High Point guard Keys, the Big South's freshman of the year, was held to six points in the opening half after coming in averaging more than 18 points a game.
Winthrop struggled in the middle against 6-foot-2 Robertson, who had 10 points in the game's first 10 minutes. But she sat much of the half after that when she picked up her second foul.