BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – In a matchup of the two best teams in Conference USA, Middle Tennessee (18-7, 12-3 C-USA) made too many mistakes, losing a 63-60 nail-biter to Western Kentucky.
The loss gives control of first place in the conference standings to WKU (23-4, 12-2 C-USA). The Blue Raiders now fall a half game behind the Lady Toppers.
MTSU has three games remaining on the regular-season schedule, while WKU has four left.
This snapped Middle Tennessee’s 12-game winning streak in the rivalry dubbed “100 Miles of Hate”. They had not lost to the Lady Toppers since March 11, 2008.
In the end, turnovers proved costly for the Blue Raiders, as they committed 19 turnovers in the game.
The Lady Toppers did not fail to capitalize on them, outscoring MTSU 25-6 in points off turnovers. WKU only turned the ball over eight times on the day.
Second-chance points were also a killer for the Blue Raiders. WKU scored 17 second-chance points off of 21 offensive rebounds.
The Blue Raiders led for much of the first half, going up by as much as nine after sophomore Olivia Jones nailed a three-pointer with 9:34 remaining in the half.
The Lady Toppers proved to dominate the rest of the half though after using an 18-2 run to take a 43-35 lead into the halftime break.
First-half miscues cost the Blue Raiders big time, as they committed 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. WKU converted these mistakes into 18 points.
The Lady Toppers extended their lead in the opening minutes of the second half to 49-39 with 15:42 remaining in the game.
Middle Tennessee answered though, using an 11-2 run that was capped off by a Jones layup to close the margin to 51-50 with 11:20 left to play.
Sophomore China Dow put the Blue Raiders up, 55-53, after making two free throws with 7:57 remaining.
It was a back-and-forth affair after that, with neither team leading by more than one possession the rest of the way.
MTSU guard Shanice Cason put MTSU ahead, 60-59, with 2:10 remaining when she drove to the basket and made a layup.
That layup was the last points the Blue Raiders were able to tally.
Alexis Govan regained the lead for WKU, 61-60, with her put-back layup off an offensive rebound with 1:33 remaining. MTSU missed two free throws that could have given them the lead back.
With 22 seconds left, Chastity Gooch sank two free throws to extend the Lady Toppers’ lead to 63-60.
Fittingly, a turnover ended the Blue Raiders’ chances of winning, as Jones was called for a double-dribble with two seconds remaining to seal the win for Western Kentucky.
Three players reached double figures for the Blue Raiders. Senior Cheyenne Parker recorded 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Jones scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Cason added 12 points.
MTSU entered the game leading the conference in blocks per game, mostly due to the impressive play of Parker. But, the Blue Raiders got a boost in the post Saturday from freshman Rebecca Reuter, who swatted a career-high four shots while adding five points and seven rebounds.
Gooch led the Lady Toppers with a game-high 17 points. Govan recorded a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
The Blue Raiders will have a week to regroup before they host UAB at Murphy Center next Saturday. This will begin a three-game home stand that will round out regular-season play for Middle Tennessee. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. CST.
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