Lady Toppers’ comeback attempt comes up short, dropping second game in a row

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Arthur H. Trickett-Wile

WKU Lady Topper senior guard Meral Abdelgawad (4) passes the ball to her teammate Saturday afternoon, Jan. 22 of 2022 against the FIU Panthers in Diddle Arena. WKU won the match 87-66.

Cassady Lamb, Sports Reporter

The Lady Toppers (14-6, 7-2 C-USA) took on Middle Tennessee (15-4, 7-2 C-USA) Saturday afternoon in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, falling just short 71-64.

WKU freshman guard Alexis Mead led the team with 17 points, shooting 5-of-10 from the field with four assists and four rebounds. Senior guard Meral Abdelgawad scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds. 

MTSU’s sophomore forward Kseniya Malashka led the Lady Raiders with 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 3-of-3 from deep. Junior Courtney Whitson earned a double-double, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with 11 points.   

The difference in the game was the Lady Raiders’ ability to hit the three-point shot, making 11 compared to the Lady Toppers’ five. MTSU scored 20 second-chance points compared to WKU’s nine. The Lady Toppers had zero blocks throughout the game while the Lady Raiders came up with six.

The game got off to a slow start with the Lady Toppers being the first to 10 points with a minute and a half left in the first quarter. Whitson made an and-one to tie the game at 10-10, leading to a 10-2 run for the Lady Raiders to end the first quarter of play. MTSU led 17-12. 

The Lady Raiders began the second quarter with a three pointer from senior guard Dor Saar, adding to the MTSU run and making it a 13-3 charge for the home team. WKU cut the run by making a free throw to bring the score to 20-13.

The Lady Raiders went on a 12-1 run to push their lead 32-14, their biggest advantage of the game, forcing the Lady Toppers to take their second timeout. Following the timeout, sophomore guard Hope Sivori and sophomore guard Teresa Faustino each hit three-pointers.

WKU battled its way back to cut the deficit to 36-25 going into the intermission. 

“They were playing aggressive defense,” WKU head coach Greg Collins said. “We were taking bad shots, and then we were doing a horrible job on the boards rebounding, so we didn’t get as many possessions.”

WKU was able to shorten MTSU’s lead to seven points halfway through the third quarter. Mead made two free throws and Abdelgawad chipped in another, allowing the Lady Toppers to shorten the Lady Raiders’ lead to only one point at 40-39.

“I can’t say enough about the fight in these kids,” Collins said. “I mean they kept battling and battling, and even when the game got up to 10 we cut it back to six.”

WKU took its first lead at 47-46 with 1:26 left in the third quarter, its first time in front since the score sat at 10-7 in the first frame. MTSU gained the lead back 20 seconds later after Whitson made two free throws. The Lady Raiders ended the third quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 52-47 lead into the fourth quarter. 

MTSU caught fire to start the fourth, extending its lead to 61-50 after a three by Saar. The Lady Raiders got their lead up to 13 points before the Lady Toppers battled their way back, getting down by 69-64 with 28 seconds left.   

“At the end of the day it comes down to: we’ve got to take care of the ball and make sure we get good shots,” Collins said. 

He said he’s proud of how hard the team fought, and that the team is learning and is competitive.

“They want to win,” Collins said. “They want to win championships.”

A foul on WKU led to two made three throws by Malashka, making the score 71-64 to close out the game. It was the Lady Toppers’ second loss in a row, following their loss on Thursday to the University of Alabama at Birmingham 86-70.

“I’m proud of the turnaround that they’ve had from our game on Thursday down at UAB,” Collins said. 

Next, the Lady Toppers play on Thursday at Diddle Arena at 6:30 p.m. CT. The game will be available to stream on ESPN+ and WKU PBS. Fans can also tune into game coverage on ESPNKY 102.7’s radio broadcast.

Volleyball beat reporter Cassady Lamb can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lambp0p.