Murfreesboro, Tenn. — Chelsia Lymon scored 11 of her 18 points in the second half — including eight in a crucial stretch late in the game to help Middle Tennessee to a 68-60 win over the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team Sunday afternoon at the Murphy Center.
The loss dropped WKU to 19-7 overall and 12-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, but the Lady Toppers still hold a two-game lead in the loss column over the Blue Raiders for the Sun Belt East lead. MTSU improved to 16-10 and 11-4 in the conference.
“This loss certainly doesn’t make or break our season, but at the same time it can have an effect on the future of our season if we don’t learn from some of the mistakes we made down the stretch,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “I’m confident that our young ladies will do that. We’ve put ourselves in position to win a regular-season championship with our play to this point, and that goal is still very much within our reach.”
Middle Tennessee was able to take an eight-point lead into the locker room at intermission, then extend that lead out to 10 when Amber Holt scored two of her game-high 28 points on the first possession of the second half. WKU responded with a 7-0 run of its own, however, to get back within three on a Dominique Duck jumper just two minutes into the half. In fact, those seven unanswered points were part of a 14-2 run that saw the Lady Toppers take their first lead since early in the second half when a Duck layup put them in front 46-44.
The second half would three ties and eight lead changes, with neither club holding a lead larger than two points for almost a nine-minute span in the period. WKU’s final lead of the afternoon came when Arnika Brown made it a 52-51 game with 11 minutes remaining, but Anne Marie Lanning answered with a three the next time down the court to move the Blue Raiders ahead by two. Duck tied the game at 54-54 with 8:16 remaining, before both teams went scoreless for nearly three minutes.
Lymon broke the drought with a jumper at the 5:31 mark to move MTSU back in front by two, but Crystal Kelly answered with a jumper for WKU to tie the game for the seventh and final time in the second half. Lymon then sandwiched a pair of threes around another Kelly jumper as Middle took a 62-58 lead with 2:24 to play.
The Lady Toppers got back within two on a pair of Kelly free throws with 1:56 to play, but saw MTSU get a pair of offensive rebounds before Holt was able to stretch the lead back out to four on a jumper with just 26 seconds to play. WKU committed a turnover on its next possession, leading to a pair of Holt free throws and an Emily Queen layup in the final seconds to stretch the final margin to eight points.
“I really felt that for about the first 18 and a half minutes of the second half our young ladies were very poised and focused,” added Cowles. “Our mental focus was a whole lot better in the second half, but we can’t allow for those breakdowns at crucial times in the game.”
Amy McNear scored WKU’s first five points of the game — including knocking down her first three pointer of the season — but the Lady Toppers found themselves playing from behind for most of the opening half. After taking a 12-10 lead on a Duck jumper at the 15:19 mark, the Blue Raiders got three free throws from Lymon to start a 10-2 run as MTSU was able to pull out to a 20-14 lead on a basket by Holt.
After Arnika Brown ended the drought with a layup from WKU used another 10-2 spurt to pull out to a 30-18 advantage with just under seven minutes left before halftime. The Lady Toppers were able to get back within four points when a Charlotte Marshall layup at the 3:06 mark made it a 32-28 game, but back-to-back threes from Jackie Pickel sandwiched around a Brown layup stretched the advantage back out to eight. The teams would trade buckets in the final two minutes as MTSU took a 40-32 lead into intermission.
Both teams shot well in the opening half, with WKU connecting on 45.2 percent of its shots, while the Blue Raiders finished at 51.6 percent. Holt led all scorers at the break with 18 points, while Brown tossed in 10 off the bench for WKU.
Those shooting numbers changed dramatically in the second half, as the Lady Toppers limited MTSU to just 31.4 percent shooting, while connecting on 47.8 percent of its shots. For the game, WKU shot 46.3 percent from the floor, but saw the Blue Raiders knock down eight threes — four in each half.
Kelly paced the Lady Toppers with 20 points, and added a game-high 11 rebounds for 15th double-double of the season. Duck finished the game with 16 points — her second-highest scoring total of the season. Brown also finished with 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
The Lady Toppers return home to host South Alabama at 7 p.m. (CST) at E.A. Diddle Arena.