Lady Toppers use first and second half comeback efforts to win 83-76 over Rice

The Hilltoppers’ Chastity Gooch is fouled by Southern Miss’ Tamara Jones during Saturday’s game at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green. Southern Miss defeated WKU, 63-61.

Jonah Phillips

After Rice led for 31:40 of the 40 minutes in the game, the Lady Toppers went on a 31-10 run after trailing by 13 points to beat Rice 83-76 in Houston.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “Just our fight– we continue to find ways. We talked about going out and getting some stops, and we did, but they shot 57 percent from the field.  It seemed like everything they were shooting was going in.”

Similar to Thursday’s matchup against North Texas, WKU (20-4, 9-2) trailed for the majority of the first half before using a defensive push to claim the lead just before the break.

The Lady Toppers forced eight turnovers in the last 4:59 of the first half to go on a 19-2 run and lead 40-35 at the break.

Chastity Gooch lead the Lady Toppers in the first half with 11 points. Ileana Johnson was right behind her with 10 points as Kendall Noble proved to be pivotal in the first half as well, notching five rebounds, four assists, three steals, three points, and one block.

“Something that I am really proud of it this was the best offensive rebounding team in the conference,” Clark-Heard said.  “We held them to five offensive rebounds, and outrebounded them, and that is something that I am really proud of because we had been talking about that all day yesterday and all day today in shoot-around.” 

WKU would let the lead they held slip again early in the second half, trailing 42-45 with 15:52 to play at the first media timeout. The Lady Toppers started the second half out shooting 3-14 from the field, allowing the Owls to go on a 10-0 run during this span, and force WKU into a familiar come-from-behind position they saw in the first half.

Rice held their largest lead of the game with 11:05 to play in the second half, holding a 13-point lead at 50-63. Though, after this point WKU would finish the half on a 31-10 run, taking their largest lead of the game at seven points with just 53 seconds remaining in the game.

In the first half, the Lady Toppers did not claim the lead until the 1:40 mark, and in the second half, after giving up the lead at the 16:42 mark they would not reclaim it until there was 2:18 left in the game.

Govan led the Lady Toppers in the second half adding 11 points to her total of 19.  She finished the game with five rebounds, three steals, one block, and shot 7-9 from the free throw line in a game where her team shot 19-34.

“Our seniors stepped up- Ileana, Alexis and Chastity- in big moments, and everybody made big free throws,” Clark-Heard said. “It was just a great team win, and I am just really glad we got to come out (to Texas) and grab two wins.”

The Lady Toppers struggle behind the arc in the contest, shooting just 2-15.  They would make up the difference down low, scoring 50 points in the paint.  The Lady Toppers were able to sustain first and second half comebacks after scoring 33 points off of 27 Rice turnovers.

The Lady Toppers return home next week, taking a break on Thursday before taking on Marshall on Saturday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. CT in Diddle Arena.