After Arkansas State jumped out to a 20-2 lead in the first eight minutes Sunday, it looked like the game was already over.
There wasn’t much going for the Lady Toppers offensively, as they shot just nine percent during that stretch and committed eight turnovers.
But the game was far from over. WKU (5-8, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference) put together a 15-0 run to get back in the game, eventually escaping with a 75-74 road win in overtime at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark.
The win keeps the Lady Toppers undefeated in conference play.
“The way that we battled was extremely impressive,” Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “We never placed blame, and we just stuck together as a basketball team.”
Cowles said the decision to switch to their “Mad Dog” defense, a half-court zone defense, is what ultimately allowed them to hold Arkansas State scoreless for nearly six minutes and mount their comeback.
“Not only did we extend the defensive pressure with the press, we dropped into the zone because they were penetrating so much and getting to the rim,” she said. “It was effective, and our young ladies really believed in it.”
After going into halftime down six at 32-26, the Lady Toppers battled back to take their first lead with 8:35 left to play in regulation, going up 48-46.
Arkansas State (8-7, 1-1 SBC) then went on a 13-5 run to go up 59-53 with 1:56 left to play in regulation, and the Red Wolves looked to be in line for the win.
Down 62-57, the Lady Toppers had resorted to fouling in order to stop the clock and put together a late comeback. But instead, it was sophomore forward Janae Howard’s 3-pointer that got them back within two with 47.6 seconds left in regulation.
The Lady Toppers stopped Arkansas State from scoring on the next possession, and senior guard Amy McNear found senior forward Arnika Brown on a fast break for a bucket and a foul.
Brown made the free throw to give the Lady Toppers a one-point lead, but McNear committed her fifth foul with 3.7 seconds left to play. Arkansas State’s Jasmine Taylor hit her first free throw and missed the second, and senior guard Hope Brown’s half-court heave missed, sending the game to overtime.
The Lady Toppers were forced to play the overtime period without McNear, and they jumped out to a seven-point lead in the extra frame.
But Arkansas State climbed back to cut the lead to one, and on the next possession, Hope Brown stepped out of bounds to give the ball back to the Red Wolves.
Taylor scored to give Arkansas State a one-point lead with eight seconds left, but Hope Brown drove back down the floor and buried a jumper with 1.3 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner for the Lady Toppers.
Hope Brown said after she committed her costly turnover that could have ended up being the difference in the game, she knew she had to make amends on the other end, especially with McNear not on the floor.
“I knew I had to do something,” she said. “When that shot came off nicely off my fingertips. We were never going to quit. We play too hard to quit.”
The Lady Toppers got a huge lift off the bench from junior forward Teranie Thomas, who scored a career-high 19 points to go along with five rebounds and two steals.
“I just stayed, and my teammates just kept encouraging me,” she said. “We just stayed together. They believed in me. As a team, we said we were not going to lose that game.”
Cowles said she met with every player this week about their respective roles on the team and added that Thomas filled, and exceeded, her role Sunday.
“She was tremendous,” Cowles said. “Roles change throughout the course of the season, and I just thought she responded really well.”
The Lady Toppers had three other players in double figures, including a double-double by junior forward LaTeira Owens. She posted 18 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes of action.
Arkansas State was led by Quinishia McDowell’s 22 points and three rebounds.
Cowles said a win like this one is the kind that can benefit a team if they build on it.
“I just love being a part of something like that,” she said. “This is what you want your team to mature into. I’m just really proud of them and the fight they showed for 45 minutes.”
The Lady Toppers will head back to Diddle Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday to face Denver.