One week before the start of the 2015 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Women's Basketball Championship, the tournament's two most recent champions went head-to-head, Tuesday evening at the Vines Center. Liberty avenged an earlier setback to defending conference champion Winthrop in emphatic fashion, setting a season high for points in a 91-71 victory.
Ashley Rininger led all players with 27 points and 13 rebounds, making sure Winthrop did not become the first team to defeat the Lady Flames three straight times during Carey Green's 16-year tenure as head coach. Liberty has now won a season-high 10 straight games overall (its 13th winning streak of 10 games or more under Green), 12 consecutive home games and 23 straight home meetings with Winthrop.
The Lady Flames, who improved to 22-6 overall and 18-1 in Big South play, were presented with their 15th Big South regular-season championship trophy at the conclusion of their regular-season home finale.
Winthrop is now 16-12 overall and 12-7 in conference games despite a career-high 18-point outburst from Pamela Decheva off the bench. The Eagles fall to 4-10 away from Rock Hill this season.
Fueled by a swarming defense, Liberty took the lead for good during an early 15-0 run. Simone Brown's mid-range jumper at the 12:10 mark punctuated the surge, giving the Lady Flames a 19-5 advantage.
Decheva came off of the Winthrop bench to give the Eagles a spark. Her long three-pointer and assist on Ezinne Mbamalu's layup cut the visitors' deficit to 19-10, 11:15 before halftime.
Liberty outscored the Eagles, 13-4, over the next 4:35. Rininger tallied six of those points, including a layup at 6:40 which boosted the Lady Flames' advantage to 32-14.
Liberty's lead got as large as 20 points twice (43-23 and 45-25) before Winthrop got within 16 (47-31) at halftime.
The Lady Flames shot 64.7 percent (22-of-34) from the floor during the first half, helped by 34 points in the paint. Liberty also nearly doubled up Winthrop in rebounds, 26-14.
Conversely, Winthrop hit just 34.3 percent (12-of-35) of its first-half field goal attempts.
Rininger paced Liberty in both points (12) and rebounds (6) during the opening half, while Decheva (10 points) and Erica Williams (9 points) led the way for the Eagles.
Winthrop shot 55.2 percent (16-of-29) from the field during the second half but could not make up any ground, as the Lady Flames shot at a 50 percent (16-of-32) clip themselves.
The Eagles got no closer than 14 points after halftime, and Liberty improved to 28-1 all-time at home against Winthrop.
Aided by a season-high 58 points in the paint, the Lady Flames shot 57.6 percent (38-of-66) from the floor on the night. Liberty is now 100-1 under Green when making at least half of its field goals.
Winthrop ended up at 43.8 percent (28-of-64) from the field and scored the most points of any Big South team against Liberty in 2014-15.
The Lady Flames outrebounded their 17th straight opponent (47-29) and tallied more bench points than their opponent for the eighth consecutive game (32-22).
Rininger, who was nearly perfect shooting the basketball (12-14 FG, 3-3 FT), tied her season high of 27 points. It was the redshirt junior's fifth consecutive double-double against Winthrop. She has now notched 10 double-doubles this season and 29 for her career.
Playing her final regular-season game at the Vines Center, Emily Frazier contributed a season-high 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers. In her last seven games, Frazier has totaled 24 assists and only three turnovers. The wily redshirt senior is now just three assists shy of 400 for her career.
Brown chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench, scoring in double figures for the second straight game.
Two days after her 21st birthday, Sadalia Ellis filled up the stat sheet with eight points, a game-high seven assists, a game-high three blocks and three steals.
In all, 11 different Lady Flames put their names in the scoring column, including all four seniors. Frazier, Karly Buer, Jasmine Gardner and Ellee Rollins totaled 32 points in their Vines Center farewell.
Winthrop totaled four players in double digits, paced by Williams and Aliyah Kilpatrick with 19 points apiece. Schaquilla Nunn totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the year.
Tuesday's game served as the Lady Flames' annual Play 4Kay contest, in support of breast cancer awareness. Liberty dedicated the contest to Michelle Meadows, Longwood's Senior Associate AD/SWA, who is currently battling breast cancer.
Liberty will close out the regular season Saturday at 1 p.m., when the Lady Flames travel to Campbell (18-10, 13-6 Big South). The Lady Flames posted a 64-40 home victory over the Lady Camels on Jan. 24. Campbell has been tough to beat in Buies Creek this season, going 13-1 at Gore Arena.