BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (A-State) - Arkansas State trailed for most of the second half, but hit big shots when it needed them and held on late to defeat Western Kentucky 67-64 Saturday afternoon at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The victory moved Arkansas State to 11-7 overall on the year and 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference as the Red Wolves now have sole possession of first place. Western Kentucky fell to 11-5 and 2-2 in the league. The win was also A-State's third straight over WKU and it's third consecutive over the Lady Toppers in Bowling Green.
"First half I thought was really defensively and we got into some foul trouble which was unfortunate because I thought we were really aggressive," A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. "In the second half I thought we came out and struggled a little bit, but once we hit the eight minute mark I thought we buckled down and finished strong."
Arkansas State trailed 59-55 with 4:40 to play, but went on a 7-0 run to go up 62-59 with 2:19 and never relinquished the lead. The Lady Toppers had a chance to cut the deficit down to one point, but Kendall Noble missed the front end of a free throw and Aundrea Gamble hit two free throws on the opposite end to push the lead to 64-60 with 1:23 to go.
The Lady Toppers managed to cut the lead down three points twice with under a minute to play, but A-State was solid from the free throw line to secure the victory.
Gamble led the Red Wolves 20 points, 11 of which came in the second half, and seven rebounds. Jalen O'Bannon and Hanna Qedan had nine points each, while Brittney Gill scored seven off the bench.
The Lady Toppers scored four straight points to start the second half and led for 16-plus minutes until the Red Wolves were able to tie the game at the 3:38 mark. WKU held its largest at 48-40 with 11:06 to play, but A-State managed to keep the deficit to single digits. In each of A-State's conference victories this season, the squad has trailed by at least eight points in the second half.
Facing the eight-point deficit, Qedan helped get the Red Wolves back into the game by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers that cut the deficit to 54-48 with 8:37 to go in the game. After that, the Red Wolves slowly began chipping away the Lady Toppers' lead until it finally took the lead for good.
A-State held a one point (29-28) advantage at halftime, after shooting 36 percent from the field. Gamble led the way with nine points, while Khadija Brown-Haywood gave the Red Wolves a lift with five points off the bench. Arkansas State also crashed the boards in the opening 20 minutes holding a 23-14 edge, including a 16-11 advantage on the defensive glass.
The Red Wolves jumped out to a quick 12-4 lead with 11:45 to go in the first half after 6-0 run to get them to that point. Arkansas State was active defensively, forcing the Lady Toppers into early turnovers that lead to easy baskets in transition for A-State.
However, the lead would not last, as WKU responded with a 12-3 run of its on to take a 16-15 lead at the under eight minute media timeout. The run was sparked when Chastity Gooch was fouled by Carlisha Wyatt on a 3-point attempt. Gooch made all three free throws and Western Kentucky carried the momentum to take its one point lead.
The Red Wolves got the lead back on a 3-pointer from Brown-Haywood and did not trail for the remainder for the half. The lead grew to 25-18 after a pair of free throws from Qedan with 3:47 to go, but the Lady Toppers managed to cut the deficit to 29-28 going into the break.
Arkansas State will next play a home matchup with UALR on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center.