BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- WKU overcame 21 turnovers and a third-quarter deficit for the second straight game on Sunday afternoon, rallying past Morehead State for a 68-65 victory inside E.A. Diddle Arena to book a spot in the WNIT’s Round of 16.
Dee Givens (23 points) and Alexis Brewer (19) combined for 42 of WKU’s 68 points while leading the way on Sunday to secure the program’s seventh consecutive 20-win season, matching the longest such stretch in school history for the Lady Toppers (20-14). With the victory, WKU advances to face Ohio on the road next Thursday evening at 6 p.m. (CT) in Athens, Ohio.
Though Morehead State outscored WKU by substantial margins in both points in the paint (36-22) and off turnovers (25-7) and attempted 24 more shots on the day, the Lady Toppers pulled through after knocking down seven three-pointers and posting a 21-for-26 mark (80.8 percent) from the free throw line.
“We had a great turnout from the fans today,” Head Coach Greg Collins said. “That was probably the difference in this ballgame. Those three points probably came from playing at home. I knew our fans would be excited because the last time that we played here, we beat Middle Tennessee. I’m very thankful for [Director of Athletics] Todd Stewart giving us an opportunity to host, and I’m glad that we got to play in front of our awesome fans one more time.”
Aliyah Jeune poured in a team-best 21 points for Morehead State (24-11) and was joined in double figures by Miranda Crockett (17) and McKenzie Calvert (12). The Eagles attempted 73 field goals but were held to just 32.9 percent shooting (24-of-73) by the stout Lady Topper defense.
The first quarter featured back-and-forth action to start for both sides, with neither team able to gain any separation over the first half of the frame. The Lady Toppers were finally able to open up a five-point lead with a 7-0 run spanning three minutes later in the quarter, with Givens’ three-pointer at the 2:39 mark putting WKU in front, 16-11.
Morehead State fired back and erased the deficit by the end of the quarter, scoring six of the final seven points to forge a 17-17 tie after the opening 10 minutes. Jeune scored four of the six points for the Eagles, who briefly took the lead on her layup before Sherry Porter’s trip to the charity stripe on WKU’s final possession.
A 6-0 run by the Eagles midway through the second quarter gave Morehead State its largest lead of the game to that point. Trailing by one, McKenzie Calvert knocked down back-to-back shots before a pair of free throws gave Morehead State a 28-23 lead with 3:08 remaining before the break.
WKU whittled away at the deficit, eventually forcing a pair of ties in the final two minutes before Jeune’s triple just before the buzzer sent the Eagles into the locker room with a 33-30 advantage.
Raneem Elgedawy and Givens came out firing in the third quarter, with the former converting a three-point play and the latter knocking down a three-pointer on WKU’s first two possessions to take a 36-33 lead on the Eagles. From there, however, Morehead State answered with seven of the next eight points; four different players scored during the run for the Eagles, and Calvert’s free throw at the 5:35 mark rebuilt a 40-37 lead for Morehead State.
The game remained within one possession until another Calvert free throw pushed Morehead State’s lead to four, 49-45, with just over a minute remaining in the quarter, and the Eagles maintained that edge through the end of the frame to lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
WKU rattled off the first six points of the fourth quarter to surge back into the lead as Meral Abdelgawad’s fast-break layup created a four-point cushion, 55-51, with 7:37 on the clock. Morehead State responded with two straight baskets to knot the game at 55-55, but the Lady Toppers used an 8-0 run over the ensuing three minutes to break the game open. Alexis Brewer scored five of the eight points, including two free throws for the 63-55 advantage with 2:35 on the clock.
In the closing two minutes, Morehead State managed to cut its deficit to just one point before Whitney Creech knocked down a pair of shots from the charity stripe with 26 seconds to restore a three-point gap. The Eagles had a shot at the buzzer to force overtime, but strong defense forced Jeune’s shot off the mark as the Lady Toppers held on for the 68-65 victory.
WKU advances to the Round of 16 in the WNIT for the second time in the last four seasons and will go on the road to face MAC opponent Ohio in Athens, Ohio, on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. (CT). The trip will be WKU’s second in a week to the state of Ohio after the Lady Toppers knocked off Miami (Ohio) in the WNIT opening round, 67-63, last Thursday. The Bobcats will enter next Thursday’s clash with a 29-5 overall record in 2018-19.