DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Winthrop 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 they got to their first NCAA tournament, though, the Eagles were no match for Duke.
Big South player of the year Dequesha McClanahan had 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 (S.C.) 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.
They 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).
They didn’t miss a beat in their first game in nearly two weeks: They 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.
In each of the last four tournaments, the Blue Devils lost in the regional finals. If the seeds hold, they will face a rematch with undefeated and top-seeded Connecticut with the Final Four on the line.
Then again, it’s always dangerous to peek too far ahead in a bracket, and there was a visible reminder of that Saturday in the Cameron crowd: Duke men’s forward Rodney Hood, who has more free time than expected after his team was knocked out a day earlier by Mercer.
Coach Joanne P. McCallie’s team – which had been off since its 69-53 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament final – was never in danger of joining the men in going one and done.
“Coming in, we had to win all the hustle plays,” Liston said. “This was the only game that we technically had, so that was a big thing for us.”
Duke shot 55 percent in the first half and used an early 15-3 run – jump-started by consecutive 3s by Liston less than a minute apart – to push its lead into double figures for good. The Blue Devils then erased all doubt by closing the half with 12 straight points after Winthrop had crept within 12.
Richa Jackson’s steal and layup with 33 seconds left before the break made it 41-17 at halftime.
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