By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Lady Colonels (16-8, 10-3 OVC) reside all alone on top of the OVC East Division after a huge 61-55 win over Tennessee Tech (15-11, 9-4 OVC) Monday at McBrayer Arena.
In a game of runs by both teams, it was EKU that had the final run to open up a 56-46 lead with just less than four minutes remaining.
The Golden Eagles cut the lead to 56-51 but Brittany Coles hit a contested shot in the lane to push the lead back to 58-21 with 2:23 left.
Diamond Henderson pulled TTU to within five and had two chances to get even closer but each time Alex Jones pulled down a missed shot and was fouled. Jones and Raechelle Gray hit free throws inside the final minute to seal the win.
“It was a huge win,” EKU coach Chrissy Roberts said. “Once again it came down to making some big stops down the stretch. It’s got to be one-and-done and we did that down the stretch. We forced some tough shots and rebounded the ball and Alex hit her free throws.”
Carpenter lead all scorers with a game-high 18 points, while Coles had 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and two steals.
Jones had nine points and 15 big rebounds, Jalisa Bryant had six points, LaRa’e Allen added five points and three rebounds and Shelly Harper and Raechelle Gray added four points each. Gray also had five assists and two steals.
As they have done the past couple of games, the Lady Colonels came out of the gate a little slow and trailed 7-3 four minutes into the game.
Marie Carpenter hit three three-pointers and scored all of EKU’s points the first 10 minutes of the game to hold the Lady Colonels close.
Once again EKU’s bench came in and jump-started a sluggish offense. Pilar Walker, Jalisa Bryant and Shelly Harper came in with the Lady Colonels trailing 10-9 and immediately made an impact by picking up the pace of the game.
A free throw by Jones, a twisting shot in the lane by Harper and a basket by Coles gave the Lady Colonels a 14-10 lead with 7:50 to go in the half.
Bryant then drained a three pointer to give EKU its biggest lead at 17-12 and after Henderson hit consecutive baskets to cut the lead to one, Bryant hit her second three in less than a minute to push the lead back to four at 20-16.
Another basket by Harper and three pointers by Carpenter and Allen helped the Lady Colonels to build a 30-27 lead at the half.
“We always talk about team effort on the bench and when you are called on be ready to play. We were locked in and focused the entire game,” Roberts said. “We called on Jalisa, we called on Shelly, we called on Pilar and they were ready to play. Jalisa’s 10 minutes were huge, not only offensively, but defensively too.”
The Lady Colonels opened the second half and sent a message to the Golden Eagles that they were going to fight to the end.
After being held to a combined three points in the first half, Coles and Jones came out on fire to start the second half.
Coles hit a basket to open the half, then followed that with a three pointer 30 seconds later to jump-start an 11-2 run that ended with three consecutive baskets by Jones and a 41-29 Lady Colonels lead with 15:30 to go in the game.
“That was big,” Roberts said of the second half start. “That’s what we have to do. We’ve got to come out throwing that first punch and we’ve got to keep on swinging.”
The Golden Eagles answered right back going on an 8-0 run and scoring 12 of the next 14 points to pull to within two at 43-41 with just under 10 minutes to go.
After a timeout by Roberts, EKU quickly regrouped.
Coles hit a driving layup, Carpenter hit two free throws and Coles hit a short jumper in the lane to push the lead back to 49-41 with 8:30 left.
After TTU pulled to within 49-46, the Lady Colonels went on the decisive run to finally pull away.
Roberts said that even after TTU made the run and their lead vanished, she saw no panic from her team during the time out.
“When we went up by 12 and they made that run, I called timeout and you could see the look in our kids eyes. They said, ‘We’ve got this. We’re all right. We’ll be OK,” Roberts said. “We knew they are a good team and those teams are going to make their runs, but we held on and continued to fight. We didn’t fall apart, we rallied around each other and got stronger as a team and we were able to finish.”
The win gives the Lady Colonels a one-game lead over both Tech and Belmont with each having three games remaining in the race for the No. 1 seed and a double bye in the OVC Tournament. The Lady Colonels and TTU will hook up again on Feb. 28 in Cookeville, Tenn.
The win also broke a losing streak to the Golden Eagles, something that wasn’t lost on the players.
“It is always a tough matchup for us with Tech,” Carpenter said. “They have beaten us the last four times, so it was a, ‘We’re putting our foot down game’ for us.”
The Lady Colonels will be back in action Saturday when they play host to Austin Peay on Senior Night at 4 p.m.