Marshall spoils Noble’s triple-double in C-USA Tournament

WKU’s guard Kendall Noble (12) is closely guarded by Marshall’s guard Norrisha Victim (20) during the final seconds of the Lady Topper’s 63-66 loss in the quarterfinals of the C-USA tournament Thursday at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Mike Clark/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

Redshirt junior guard Kendall Noble recorded a number in every statistical category against Marshall in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Conference USA Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Hazard native notched 17 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and two blocks in the game. Her triple-double is her second on the season and the second in the history of the women’s program at WKU.

The only thing that escaped Noble on Thursday night was a victory for her team — something she could not accomplish on her own.

Marshall took down the third-seeded Lady Toppers 66-63 in Bartow Arena.

“Kendall is Kendall,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “She always seems to find a way to help put us in a position to win, and that’s what we always talk about. I’m just really proud of her. We were right there. I mean we didn’t get blown out. [Marshall] did a great job, and [I give] a lot of credit to them.”

WKU started the game by knocking down seven of 13 shot attempts and carrying an eight-point lead into the second quarter. From that moment the offense stalled, and Marshall’s zone defense halted any momentum for the Lady Toppers.

“We acted like we hadn’t seen a 2-3 zone,” Clark-Heard said. “We struggled at times to make shots, and that dictated how we played. We’d always played where we fed off our defense, and today we kind of changed a little bit.”

The Thundering Herd took its first lead of the game in the third quarter before the two teams headed to the final quarter of play in a 51-51 deadlock.

Outside Noble’s historic performance, three other Lady Toppers were in double figures. Sophomore guard Tashia Brown had 14 points while sophomore forward Ivy Brown and freshman forward Taylor Brown each had 11. But WKU struggled to string together enough shots when it mattered.

“I think we consistently stood around a lot,” Clark-Heard said. “That’s why we changed up when we came out in the beginning of the second half. We went on a run when we changed up what we were doing, and I think there was times when we reverted back to what we were doing in the first and second quarters.”

All C-USA first-team player Leah Scott had 15 points and nine rebounds for Marshall, but junior forward Talequia Hamilton was a game changer for the Herd.

Hamilton finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks after averaging just 8.9 points per contest in the regular season.

“She was everywhere,” Clark-Heard said of Hamilton. “She had a phenomenal game. She was the difference.”

Neither team made shots down the stretch as both WKU and Marshall shot 31 percent or worse in the fourth quarter. The difference was four WKU turnovers to Marshall’s one in the final 10 minutes.

Clark-Heard’s defense thrives on turnovers, and on Thursday evening Marshall coughed up the ball just seven times.

“We just didn’t execute down in the end, and I take my hat off to Marshall,” Clark-Heard said. “They played hard and executed down the end. They made the plays and we didn’t.”

There will be a postseason for WKU, but as the third seed in the conference tournament, the Lady Toppers were expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid. In all likelihood, the Lady Toppers will be hosting a first-round game in the WNIT in Diddle Arena.

“The only hopes we would get would be the WNIT,” Clark-Heard said. “A loss is always tough, but I mean, we’re 24-6, and this is supposed to be a rebuilding year for us. I’m just super proud of that group. Of course, we wanted to keep winning and have a chance to win a championship.”

The 35th best RPI in the country and zero severe losses make WKU’s NCAA Tournament resume interesting for the selection committee, but Clark-Heard wants her team to be in position to capture a bid without dispute like it has the previous two seasons.

“In our program, we want to keep building and building,” Clark-Heard said. “When you win — and you win championships — you want to continue to win championships. That’s why I’m disappointed, that’s why the team’s disappointed, but we’ll bounce back.”

No matter what postseason WKU is invited to play in during the coming weeks, Clark-Heard considers this season a success.

“I think the most important thing we talked about was that we’re really proud of them,” Clark-Heard said. “We’re 24-6. This outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be, and we’re going to move forward and try [to] learn and grow from this.”