BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — After shooting just 28.1 percent from the field in the first half, Middle Tennessee shot 60 percent after intermission, and used a 14-4 run late in the game to pull away for a 71-54 win over the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game was the regular-season finale for both squads.
The loss dropped the Lady Toppers to 20-9 on the year and 13-7 in the Sun Belt Conference. WKU has earned a first-round bye in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, but will not know their seed until the conclusion of play today. It will open postseason play on Saturday (March 9) in the tournament quarterfinals in Hot Springs, Ark., as either the #3 or #4 seed. The Lady Toppers will be seeded third if Arkansas State falls at UALR later this afternoon. They will be the fourth seed with an ASU victory. MTSU (22-7, 17-3 SBC) will be the top seed in the tournament.
Until MTSU’s late run, neither team held more than a five-point lead at any point in the contest. WKU was forced to play from behind the entire second half, but stayed close as it was a three-point game after a pair of Alexis Govan free throws with 8:28 remaining. Four straight Blue Raider charity shots gave them their largest lead of the contest (49-42) with 7:37 to go, and three minutes later MTSU took its first double-digit lead when a jumper from Ebony Rowe stretched the advantage to 57-46.
Jalynn McClain answered with a jumper for WKU to again make it a single-digit game, but Kortni Jones — who scored 16 of her 18 points after halftime — scored seven straight for MTSU to push the lead to 66-52 with 2:17 remaining. The Lady Toppers were held without a field goal for the final 2:50, and the Blue Raiders scored the game’s final five points at the free-throw line to push the final margin to 17.
WKU held Middle Tennessee to just 1-for-10 shooting to start the game, but was unable to jump out to an early advantage. The lady Toppers were able to open up a 12-8 lead seven minutes into the contest after a Chastity Gooch three, but a 9-0 run by the Blue Raiders put the visitors in front 19-14 after an Rowe jumper with 8:08 remaining before halftime.
MTSU would remain in front the rest of the way, but he Lady Toppers were stay within striking distance as the Raiders took a 27-23 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Gooch posted her school-record 23rd double-double of the season, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds. That broke the previous record of 22 double-doubles set by ShaRae Mansfield during the 1999-2000 season. Govan also posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards, while Micah Jones added 11 points. Rowe paced MTSU with 25 points and 14 boards, while Jones and Icelyn Elie added 18 and 16, respectively.
Final seedings for the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Tournament will be available at the conclusion of play across the league tonight. The official tournament bracket and game times will be available online at www.wkusports.com and www.sunbeltsports.org.