Owens, rest of juniors lift Lady Tops to win over Florida A&M

Junior center Jasmine Johnson prepares to take a shot during the Lady Toppers’ game against the Florida A&M Rattlers on Sunday afternoon. WKU’s junior class made 20 of the team’s 21 field goals in the second half of the 57-50 win. DELAYNA EARLEY/Herald

Cole Claybourn

It wasn’t the best-looking game that the Lady Toppers have played this season, but Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said she’ll take it.

Despite shooting 33.9 percent from the field and just 8.3 percent from the 3-point line, the Lady Toppers (3-6) pulled out a 57-50 victory over Florida A&M Sunday in Diddle Arena.

“It wasn’t the best-played game on our part,” Cowles said. “But no matter what point it was in the game, we continued to stay focused with a ‘we are going to win’ attitude. That was really fun to see with our girls.”

Cowles has talked all season about wanting her team to start off with energy right away. They struggled with that early in the year, but Cowles said their start on Sunday might have been the best she’s seen from them all season.

“We were aggressive, we got the ball inside, we ran the floor very well,” she said. “Our focus was very strong.”

It wasn’t just the Lady Toppers that came out ready to play though.

Both teams came out with plenty of energy in front of the small crowd of 668 in Diddle. The first 10 minutes were mostly played in transition, with both teams trading baskets.

But the Lady Toppers busted the game open and went up by seven with just under eight minutes left in the first half. They pushed the lead to as many as 10 until Florida A&M (3-3) answered with a 7-0 run to finish the half down 29-26.

Florida A&M continued to hang with the Lady Toppers for the first 10 minutes of the second half and cut the deficit to just one with 11:13 to play.

But that’s when the Lady Toppers answered with a quick 7-0 run of their own in a two-minute span. Florida A&M would get no closer than four the rest of the way.

The Lady Toppers turned the ball over 15 times in the first half but limited themselves to just three turnovers in the second half.

Offensively, they were led by junior forward LaTeira Owens’ 16-point, 15-rebound performance – her second double-double of the season.

Her 15 rebounds were a career high and helped WKU claim a 51-29 advantage on the boards.

“We have a lot of people on our team that can rebound,” Owens said. “That’s what we’re good at. We just rebound.”

In Thursday’s loss to Bowling Green State, the Lady Toppers had four players with at least seven rebounds.

They got similar production on Sunday. Senior guard Amy McNear had nine rebounds, and senior forward Arnika Brown had eight.

“We’ve known that rebounding could be a strength of ours this year,” Cowles said. “We’ve just got to continue to make that a priority every game.”

The balanced effort continued from the Lady Toppers’ bench. They got 17 bench points, including six from junior forward Teranie Thomas – all in the second half.

“We thought Teranie was a big lift off the bench for us today,” Cowles said. “Teranie was just really solid. She only played 13 minutes, but she took advantage of those 13 minutes as well as anybody.”

It was really the entire junior class that stepped up for the Lady Toppers. In the second half, 20 of the Lady Toppers’ 21 field goals were scored by juniors.

Part of that effort was junior guard Vanessa Obafemi, who started her second game in a row. Cowles said she earned her starting role for her defense, but she provided another solid boost offensively for the Lady Toppers with nine points.

Obafemi said getting to start lately has done nothing but build her confidence.

“I think today I just started feeling my shot again,” she said. “It’s always good as a shooter to see your shots go in for confidence.”

The Lady Toppers now have a week off for finals and won’t play again until next Sunday against Grambling State at 2 p.m.