Bowling Green, Ky. — Crystal Kelly scored 20 of her game-high 33 points in the second half as the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team shot 61.8 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes to pick up an 87-76 win over Louisiana Tech Tuesday night at E.A. Diddle Arena in the 25th Annual BB&T Classic.
Kelly also pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds to help WKU move to 3-1 on the season. Louisiana Tech fell to 0-1.
“This was just a great team effort,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “We were able to see how mentally tough our team is, which I think is very positive as we look to where we want to get to as the season progresses.
The Lady Toppers were fighting an uphill battle from the opening tip as Louisiana Tech hit its first five shots of the contest, opening on a 7-0 run and taking a 12-2 lead on a Whitney Jones three less than three minutes into the game. A Crystal Kelly layup the next time down the court sparked a run of seven unanswered points for WKU as it pulled within three, but Adrienne Johnson knocked down another shot to stop the run.
The Lady Techsters used a solid shooting half to build their lead, hitting 5-of-8 from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes of play.
After a Kelly free throw and Charlotte Marshall layup pulled the Lady Toppers back within two, Nastassja Levingston hit back-to-back threes to stretch the Lady Techster lead out to 20-12 with 11:35 to go in the opening half. WKU continued to battle back, but were stiff-armed by Louisiana Tech as the Lady Techster lead again stood at five when a Jones layup made it a 30-25 game with 2:43 to go.
Amy McNear knocked down one of two at the line, and Kelly hit a pair of free throws to again get WKU within two. After a defensive stop, McNear hit a layup to tie the game at 30-30 with 1:39 on the clock. Another Jones layup with 36 second left moved Louisiana Tech back in front, and the Lady Techsters got a defensive stop. However, Marshall came up with a steal in the closing seconds, and Kenzie Rich knocked down a three as time expired — her only bucket of the first half — to send the Lady Toppers to the locker room with their only lead of the half at 33-32.
After Shavania Dowdell opened the second half with a three to move the Lady Techsters back in front by one, Rich answered with another shot from long range to spark a 12-3 WKU run that gave WKU a 45-38 lead on a Marshall layup with 16:45 to play. The Lady Toppers would lead the rest of the way, opening up a nine-point lead midway through the half.
Louisiana Tech refused to go away, however, as it scored eight unanswered to pull back within a point when back-to-back Tiawana Pringle layups cut the Lady Topper lead down to a point with 8:28 remaining. The Lady Techsters got as close as one three times in that stretch, but each time WKU answered with a basket, then got a layup from Dominque Duck at the 6:47 mark to start a 9-2 run that stretch the lead back to 72-64 after a Hope Brown three with 4:53 remaining.
WKU took its first double-figure lead when a jumper by Whitney Ballinger at the 2:35 mark made it 78-67. Louisiana Tech could only get as close as nine the rest of the way as the Lady Toppers built a 14-point lead with under a minute to go before Levingston knocked down a three to make the final margin 11.
Kelly was the difference for WKU in the second half as she went 8-for-10 from the field and 4-of-5 at the free throw stripe to score 20 points and pull down seven rebounds in the final period. Rich was also sparked by the three right before intermission as she scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half, going a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and 4-for-4 at the stripe. Marshall also finished the night in double figures with 12 points, while Brown and Ballinger tossed in nine points each. Levingston paced the Lady Techsters with 17 points off the bench, while Jones added 15 points and a game-high six rebounds.
The Lady Toppers will now hit the road as they head to the Nation’s capital to take part in the George Washington Thanksgiving Classic. WKU will open against Southern Illinois at 2 p.m. (CST) on Friday, then take on 15th-ranked GW on Saturday at 4:30 pm.