Every time the Lady Colonels hit a big shot, Eastern Illinois responded with one just as big.
In the end, EIU’s Ta’Kenya Nixon sank the last big shot, leading the Lady Panthers past Eastern Kentucky 79-76 on Saturday afternoon at McBrayer Arena.
EKU ends the regular season 7-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference and 12-15 overall, earning the No. 6 seed for next week’s conference tournament.
EIU (13-3, 22-27) secured the No. 2 seed and the double bye.
EKU coach Chrissy Roberts wasn’t happy with her team’s 66-55 loss to SIUE on Thursday.
The coach was happier with the effort Saturday.
“The team that played today was totally different from the team that played the other day,” she said. “We started strong, we fought until the final buzzer. I thought we looked out for each other. We played hard. Everybody brought something to the table. I’m pleased with our overall team effort from top to bottom.”
After Nixon’s two free throws gave the Lady Panthers a 73-72 lead with 1:37 remaining, EKU quickly responded on a jumper by Marie Carpenter, taking the lead right back with 1:22 showing on the clock.
EIU wasted little time regaining the lead, needing nine seconds to go up 75-74 on a jumper by Nixon.
Carpenter raced down court, sinking another jumper, as EKU went back in front, 76-75 with 47 seconds remaining.
On the other end, Nixon did it again, draining a short jumper for a 77-76 lead with 38 ticks on the clock.
Carpenter tried to give the lead right back to EKU, but the third time was not the charm and her shot was just off the mark.
After Nixon hit two free throws with 17.7 seconds remaining, EKU had two shots to send the game to overtime with a three-pointer, but both attempts came up a little short.
EKU came out hot, hitting eight-of-10 field goals and four-of-four three-pointers, taking a 20-15 lead.
By halftime, the Lady Colonels were 17-of-29 (58.6 percent) from the field and five-of-10 from three-point range.
Still, EKU only led 44-40 at the break, thanks to the free throw shooting of EIU.
The Lady Panthers drew 13 fouls in the first half and turned those fouls into gold, sinking 17-of-20 from the charity stripe.
EKU fell behind 56-52 with 13:08 remaining when the Lady Colonels turned to defense to get back into the game.
Jade Barber tipped a loose ball to Raechele Gray, who ran the fast break, getting the ball back to Barber, who scored and was fouled.
Barber completed the three-point play, cutting the lead to 56-55.
Barber then hauled down a rebound and sent an outlet pass to Gray, who found Brittany Coles streaking to the basket.
Coles was fouled and sank both shots, giving the lead back to EKU.
From there, the lead changed hands four times, with EKU going back in front 70-69, after Alex Jones pulled down an offensive rebound and scored and was fouled, completing the three-point play with 3:20 remaining.
A pair of free throws by Gray extended the lead to 72-69.
After EIU pulled to 72-71, Nixon, who finished with 30 points, scored her team’s final eight points to secure the three-point victory.
In her final home game, EKU’s only senior Jasmine Stovall scored 11 points and had three rebounds.
Carpenter led the Lady Colonels with 15 points.
Jones added 13 points and nine rebounds, Gray had 10 points and four assists, Barber had six points and six rebounds, Coles had five points and five rebounds, Jalisa Bryant had three points and Carla Booth scored two points.
The Lady Colonels face Tennessee State Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the first round of the OVC Tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.
EKU swept Tennessee State this season, 79-59 and 73-66.
“If we can carry this effort, this intensity into Nashville we’ll be OK,” Roberts said. “This is the team we need to take to Nashville.”