Bowling Green, Ky. — The Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team held off a late Middle Tennessee charge, and got double-doubles from both Crystal Kelly and Arnika Brown as they opened up 2008 with an 85-81 victory over the Blue Raiders Thursday night at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The win snapped MTSU’s 26-game win streak against Sun Belt Conference teams dating back to the 2005-06 regular season. WKU improved to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt East with the win, while the Blue Raiders fell to 7-7 and 2-1 in the league.
“The thing that sticks out more than anything with this win is the way our young ladies went about things with their composure and their belief in what we needed to do to win this game,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “We never lost our focus or changed our demeanor tonight, and never doubted along with way that we were going to get this victory.“
The Lady Toppers appeared to have the game in hand as they led 76-66 after a pair of free throws by Dominique Duck with 3:30 remaining. However, four straight points by Chelsia Lymon started an 11-2 run as Lymon was able to bring MTSU back within one at the 1:22 mark. After Kenzie Rich knocked down a free throw to push the lead back out to two points, Lymon hit two free throws to tie the game at 79-79 with just 1:05 left.
Rich came back and hit two free throws to put WKU back in front, but Amber Holt — who finished with a game-high 36 points — knocked down a jumper to again even the score at 81-81 with 43 seconds to play. Duck again knocked down two free throws to put WKU back in front by two. The Lady Toppers were then able to get a stop on the defensive end before Rich sealed the win with a pair of free throws in the closing seconds.
It was an uphill climb for WKU in the early stages of the second half, however it did not allow MTSU to stretch its lead past six points. The Lady Toppers hit 11 of their first 15 shots to open the half, but the Blue Raiders got hot from behind the arc, hitting three three-pointers during that stretch to remain in front. Brown was able to give WKU its first lead since early in the first half when a three-point play at the 13:51 mark made it a 51-50 game. Holt quickly knocked down a shot to again move Middle Tennessee out in front, but a jumper by Amy McNear sparked an 8-1 run that moved the Lady Toppers out in front by seven with just under nine minutes remaining.
The lead grew to 10 on two occasions before WKU was forced to hold off the Blue Raider run to earn the victory.
WKU jumped out to the early lead in the contest as Rich knocked down a three on the first possession of the game to spark an 8-2 Lady Topper run as they were able to open up a six-point lead on a Kelly three point play with 17:12 to go in the half. Unfortunately, after Kelly connected on the free throw WKU would go scoreless for the next 7:49 as MTSU scored 13 unanswered points to pull out to a 15-8 lead.
Brown broke the scoring drought with back-to-back baskets to bring the Lady Toppers back within three before the teams started trading baskets. After a jumper from Holt at the 4:15 mark stretched the Blue Raider lead to 23-19, Kelly completed another three-point play to bring WKU within one. That would be as close as the Lady Toppers would get in the half as MTSU forced two straight turnovers to stretch the lead back out to five. The teams again swapped buckets down the stretch as Middle Tennessee went to the locker room with a 33-28 lead.
Thanks to its 73.3 percent shooting from the floor in the second half, WKU finished the game at 53.4 percent from the field. The Lady Toppers also controlled the board, outrebounding MTSU 40-18. Brown and Kelly each finished with a game-high 14 board — including seven offensive rebounds each. Kelly led the Lady Toppers with 22 points, while Brown and Rich each tossed in 17 and Duck added 13. Johnna Abney and Lymon joined Holt in double figures for the Blue Raiders, finishing with 16 and 12, respectively.
WKU will head back out on the road this weekend as it faces South Alabama at 2 p.m. (CST) on Sunday (Jan. 6) in Mobile.