WKU overcomes Lee University, closes non-conference play with win

Senior Tashia Brown of Lake Park, Ga. competes with a member of the WKU men’s basketball team during Hilltopper Hysteria, on Friday, Oct. 13.

Tyler Mansfield

Whenever Division I programs play lower-level teams, they’re almost always heavy favorites. However, being favored by a large margin doesn’t always mean that D-I school is going to rout their smaller opponent.

That was the case on Friday evening as WKU hosted Lee University, a Division II school out of Cleveland, Tennessee, in its non-conference finale. The Lady Toppers were tested all throughout the first half by the Flames and only led by seven points at halftime.

WKU eventually found its usual rhythm in the second half and was able to take a large lead and pull away with an 88-64 win. Following the game, WKU head coach Michelle Clark-Heard said it was good for the Lady Toppers to receive another test before beginning Conference USA play next week.

“That’s a very good ball team,” Clark-Heard said. “They shoot it and they’re very well coached. We knew this would be a challenge and that’s why we wanted to have a game like this before we went into conference.”

WKU (9-4 overall) led 30-16 after the opening quarter but were then outscored 26-19 by the Flames (9-4) to only lead 49-42 at the break. The Lady Toppers turned things around and outscored Lee 39-20 over the course of the third and fourth periods to close their non-conference slate with a check in the win column.

Tashia Brown led WKU with 30 points, recording her ninth straight 20-point game of the season – the longest active streak among D-I players this year. Along with Tashia, Ivy Brown scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while Raneem Elgedawy finished with nine points and 10 boards.

“I was just being aggressive,” Tashia Brown said of the way she performed. “Coach just talked to me about staying aggressive and that’s what I’m trying to focus on going into conference.”

WKU came out of the gate and quickly went to work.

Hitting five of their first six shots, the Lady Toppers took a 16-8 lead over Lee after Tashia Brown converted an and-one at the 6:52 mark of the first quarter. A runner by Nichel Tampa soon after had WKU up 20-8 as it was shooting 78 percent from the field.

Lee cut the Lady Toppers’ lead to 24-16, but a three pointer by Whitney Creech from the left wing put WKU back up double digits at 27-16 with just over a minute remaining in the opening period. Another deep ball – this one from Sidnee Bopp – put WKU up 30-16 after one.

The Lady Toppers shot 68.8 percent in the first while Tashia was already up to 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting.

A pair of free throws by Tashia pushed WKU’s advantage to 37-21 at the 7:13 mark of the second. However, the Flames responded and cut their deficit to 10 at 37-27 after Abby Bertram knocked down a three from the top of the key.

“I think (we weren’t) playing aggressive and playing hard,” Ivy Brown said. “They had seven threes — and we talked about that all week. They’re a good three-point shooting team.”

WKU fired back with five straight points to lead 42-27 with 4:06 remaining in the first half, but another spark by Lee brought it to within seven at 45-38 with under two minutes left before halftime.

By outscoring the Lady Toppers 26-19 in the second quarter, Lee University went into the locker room at the break down just seven. WKU led 49-39, but a three from the Flames’ Halle Hughes at the buzzer had it leading by a slim 49-42 margin after two complete periods.

“Just moving the ball and making shots,” Clark-Heard said of what the Flames did well in the first half. “They were driving and kicking. We were fouling and putting them at the free-throw line, so we weren’t playing good position defense and we weren’t playing aggressive and getting to our spots.”

The Lady Toppers went 16-of-36 from the floor in the opening half (44 percent) and forced 13 turnovers. It was seven threes that helped Lee trail a Division I team on the road by just seven at halftime.

At the break, Tashia Brown had 19 points while going 6-of-10 from the field. Bertram was leading Lee with 15 points while shooting 71 percent.

Bertram finished with 15 points to carry Lee while Lindsey Roddy and Erin Walsh each added 11.

WKU played a much better second half.

“I think our defense – that’s what we talked about in the locker room,” Heard said. “We had some specific goals that we needed to do defensively, like hold them to a certain amount of points in one quarter and the next quarter, and we just didn’t do those things in the first half. We talked about making sure we picked up the tempo in our defense and getting the ball inside.

“That’s what changed.”

At the 5:55 mark of the third quarter, the Lady Toppers had built a 62-42 lead as they opened the period on a 13-0 run. Lee earned its first basket of the half on a layup by Roddy, but WKU was still up by 20 with 4:59 left in the third.

Taking a 72-56 advantage into the fourth, WKU was able to use that lead to close its non-conference portion of the schedule with a victory.

The Lady Toppers open C-USA play on Thursday against longtime rival Middle Tennessee. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Diddle Arena.

“I think we had a really good non-conference season,” said Ivy Brown. “I think we have a long way to go for conference play. You can always improve, so I’m excited to see what we can do the next few days in practice and get ready for Middle.”

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-935-0007 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_TylerMansfield.