The Lady Colonels (5-5) pulled out a gritty 65-61 come-from-behind win Thursday over Missouri State (1-6) in McBrayer Arena.
The lead changed hands seven times in the second half before EKU finally took the lead for good on a Marie Carpenter three-pointer with 5:57 remaining, but the outcome was in doubt up to the final seconds.
Five-straight points by senior Shelly Harper pushed the advantage out to 57-52, but the Lady Bears refused to quit and stormed back.
MSU got to within one point on two occasions, 57-56 with two minutes to go and 62-61 inside of one minute left.
Carpenter hit one of two free throws to give EKU a 63-61 lead with 17 second remaining. Then after a timeout, she came up with the biggest play of the night when she blanketed Kenzie Williams on a clear out and refused to allow her to get into the lane and to the basket, causing her to dribble the ball off her foot out of bounds.
Harper sealed the win with two free throws to make it 65-61.
“It was a huge win for us,” EKU coach Chrissy said. “We’ve had a tough stretch, traveled to Mississippi, had a day and a half to prepare for a tough Marshall team. Went up there and found a way to finish, then had one day to prepare for tonight. I’m really proud of them.”
Carpenter said she needed a chance to make up for her missed free throw at the end of the game.
“I had to make up for that free throw. As soon as I missed it I said, OK, I’ve got to get a stop,” Carpenter said. “Coach put me on No. 4, their leading scorer, and I knew I had to get it back for my team there.”
The Lady Colonels got a huge game from Harper, who recorded career highs in rebounds with 11 and points with 19 — and was 17-of-21 from the free-throw line.
Carpenter finished with a game-high 22 points, while Pilar Walker added nine points and six assists
Harper, along with sophomore Miranda Maples and freshman Michaela Hunter dominated the backboards for the Lady Colonels. EKU finished with a 52-38 advantage. Maples and Hunter pulled down eight rebounds each.
Every time the Lady Colonels needed a big stop or an offensive rebound to keep a possession alive that trio came through, especially late in the game.
“We made plays down the stretch and I’m proud of them because we’re finding ways to win and we’re doing it as a team,” Roberts said. “We’ve been talking all year about it is going to have to be a team effort for us to be able to get things done and tonight it was a team win.”
Hunter continued her stellar play the last four or five games and really gave the Lady Colonels a lift off the bench. During one stretch in the second half she came up with two offensive rebounds, a steal and hit a clutch jumper from the corner as the shot clock went off.
The shot stopped a 12-3 MSU run and got EKU started on a comeback from a seven-point deficit to eventually retake the lead.
“Michaela has a great nose for the ball, she’s very athletic and rebounds the ball extremely well. She is another one that is letting the game come to her,” Roberts said.
The first half was a game of runs. MSU used an 8-0 run to take a 9-5 lead seven minutes into the game.
But, EKU responded with a 9-0 run of its own, getting a three-pointer from Carpenter and baskets by Hunter, Walker, and Jasmine Stafford to regain a 14-9 lead mid-way through the half.
The Lady Bears scored the next five to go back on top 18-16. From that point on, the lead changed hands four times and neither team led by more than three points, and MSU took the 29-28 lead into the half.
The Lady Colonels came out of the gate a little slow and struggled to get good looks against a very active and physical man-to-man defense by the Lady Bears.
At about the seven minute mark, it looked like Harper decided she’d had enough and really began to assert herself in the paint.
It was at that point the Lady Colonels began to get it together on offense and really began to dominate the defensive glass.
Carpenter said Harper’s improvement this year has been a difference maker for the Lady Colonels.
“Shelly has come a long way. I’m really proud of her,” she said. “She’s come up big for us several times this year and I know we are going to continue seeing bigger and better things from her. She is a great hustler and plays so hard, and 17-of-21 from the line was just great.”
Walker finished the game with nine points, three rebounds and six assists, Hunter added seven points to go along with her eight rebounds and two steals, Stafford had four points and four rebounds and Maples had four points.
After playing four games in the last week, the Lady Colonels now get a few well-deserved days off before they take on Longwood University in Farmville Va. on Dec. 18.