Myrtle Beach, S.C. — Western Kentucky University senior forward Crystal Kelly finished with 18 points Thursday night against #3 North Carolina, and in the process became the all-time leading scorer in Lady Topper history. However, the Tar Heels shot 52.8 percent from the night and made second-half runs to pick up a 93-60 win at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
With a 15-foot jumper at the 3:08 mark of the opening half, Kelly surpassed Lillie Mason to become the top scorer in the history of Lady Topper basketball. Kelly tied the record 28 seconds earlier with a pair of free throws, and dropped in her 14th and final points of the period with that jumper to set the record. Kelly also reached a second milestone in the opening half as she pulled down five rebounds in the half to move past 1,000 for her career.
“It's such an honor. I never thought when my career started that I would be in a position to set these kinds of records,” said Kelly, who now has 2,268 points in her career. “I really have to credit my teammates once again. There's no way I could have reached these milestones without them.”
The Lady Toppers (6-5) jumped out to an early lead on UNC (12-1) in the opening minutes as Dominique Duck scored off the opening tip, and Kelly knocked down her first shot of the game to give WKU a 4-0 lead in the opening minute. The Lady Toppers took a 6-4 lead on a Kenzie Rich layup at the 16:26 mark, but the Tar Heels got a layup from LaToya Pringle the next time down the court to spark a 10-0 run as North Carolina pulled out to a 14-6 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining in the period.
WKU was able to get as close as four midway through the period, but UNC again pulled out to a double-digit lead on a Jessice Breland jumper at the 4:31 mark. The Tar Heels shot 52.8 percent from the field in the opening period, as that allowed the lead to grew to 15 points three times in the opening period, and that was the margin at the intermission as North Carolina took a 43-22 lead into the locker room.
The second half was all about runs by both clubs as North Carolina scored 10 of the first 12 points of the gate to open up a 53-30 lead less than three minutes into the half after a Rashanda McCants three. After a timeout, Amy McNear knocked down a jumper to spark a 12-2 Lady Topper run as they were able to pull back within 13 points when back-to-back threes by Rich made it a 55-42 game with 14:06 to play.
Unfortunately for the Lady Toppers, McCants knocked down two straight shots to spark a 13-3 Tar Heel run as they stretched the lead back out to 23 points midway through the half. The Lady Toppers would get no closer than 21 points the rest of the way as the Heels used another run to stretch the lead 35 points in the final two minutes before the Lady Toppers cut the deficit to 30 in the closing seconds.
Kelly paced three Lady Toppers in double figures as she went 6-for-14 from the floor at a perfect 6-for-6 at the free throw line in 32 minutes of action. Duck and Rich each added 10 points, while Arnika Brown came off the bench to drop in nine points and pull down a game-high 11 rebounds. McCants led all scorers with 19 points for UNC, leading five Tar Heels in double digits. Cetrea DeGraffenreid came off the bench to score 16 points — leading the way to 40 bench points for North Carolina in the contest.
The Lady Toppers will be back in action Saturday (Dec. 22) when they open Sun Belt Conference play at Troy, tipping off with the Trojans at 2 p.m. (CST) in the final contest before Christmas.