BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Middle Tennessee’s Alex Johnson scored a game-high 22 points to power the second-seeded Blue Raiders to a 69-41 win over sixth-seeded Marshall Friday afternoon at Legacy Arena.
Middle improved to 23-8 overall and was slated to face ODU (17-16) Saturday evening in the league’s title game. The fifth-seeded Lady Monarchs (17-16) knocked off top-seeded UTEP (26-4) 66-54 in Friday’s first semifinal. The Thundering Herd dropped to 21-11 overall after a stirring run, which included a 66-63 quarterfinal victory over third-seeded WKU Thursday evening,
Abbey Sissom added 10 for Middle, while star Brea Edwards was held to eight points on 2-for-9 shooting, but had 14 rebounds. Point guard Ty Petty finished the game with nine points, six assists and five steals. Rebecca Reuter added three blocks on the defensive end.
Marshall was led by 13 points from Kiana Evans and she and Chelsey Romero notched six rebounds apiece. Leah Scott had four assists, while Romero’s three blocks led the defensive effort.
The Thundering Herd got out to an early 7-2 lead in the game’s first 90 seconds, all by Evans, who hit two layups and a 3-pointer. Romero gave Marshall a 15-11 lead when she stuck a jumper at the 3:55 mark of the first quarter but the Blue Raiders ripped off a 13-0 run to take a 24-15 lead they would never relinquish.
The Thundering Herd battled subpar shooting and foul trouble to Scott and Talequia Hamilton throughout the day to go with an ankle injury at the end of the first quarter that slowed point guard Norrisha Victrum.
Marshall made just one of its 15 3-point attempts and were turned over by the Blue Raiders 22 times against just six assists. The Herd also had an uncharacteristically bad day at the free throw line (8-for-19, 42.1 percent).
“What a run we have been on so far,” said Marshall coach Matt Daniel. “I hate that we didn’t have it today, but I don’t believe our season is over. I believe our body of work speaks for itself in earning a bid for postseason play.”
“I’m very proud of our group for everything it has accomplished so far.”
The Blue Raiders finished the game with 18 assists and 12 steals, which helped fuel a 23-12 advantage in points off turnovers.
Victrum now needs five points to become the 20th player to reach 1,000 career points in program history. Romero’s three blocks gave her 117 for her career and into fourth place on the school’s career list.
Western Kentucky 63
HUNTINGTON — Sixth-seeded Marshall made all 10 of its second half free throws and overcame the first-ever triple-double in the Conference USA Tournament to down third-seeded Western Kentucky 66-63 Thursday evening at Bartow Arena.
The Thundering Herd improved to 21-10 with the win, the most for the program since winning 24 during the 1986-87 season. Western Kentucky dropped to 24-6 overall in the loss.
Marshall was scheduled to face second-seeded Middle Tennessee (22-8) Friday in the semifinals. The Blue Raiders topped 10th-seeded 74-54 earlier Thursday.
Talequia Hamilton made seven of her eight shots for 16 points, one off her career-high. She also registered three blocks. Leah Scott shook off a 5-for-14 shooting day to, once again, narrowly miss a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, hitting several clutch free throws down the stretch. Point guard Norrisha Victrum had eight points and seven assists and is now just seven points shy of becoming the program’s 20th 1000-point scorer.
WKU was led by Conference USA Player of the Year Kendall Noble, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, but Marshall hounded her all game as she made just six of 18 shots, including one of seven from downtown. Tashia Brown had 14 points and Ivy Brown and Taylor Brown each posted 11. All three Browns combined to make 15 of their 23 field goal attempts on the evening.
“We just keep growing up,” said Marshall coach Matt Daniel. “I’m very proud of our resiliency as a group. We were very balanced on both ends of the floor. Anyone who knows me, know I like to play cards, so we always talk about winning at least 21 games and hitting BLACKJACK and I’m happy to say we have accomplished that. We will see what we have left in the tank tomorrow on such a quick turnaround against a very tough opponent in Middle Tennessee.”
WKU jumped out to a 16-6 lead on a Tashia Brown jumper with a minute, 30 seconds left in the first quarter, but Marshall battled back to tie the game at 25 on a Gore jumper with 2:45 left in the second period. The Lady Toppers took a 31-27 lead into the half.
The score was tied at 51 in the third quarter and would be tied three more times in the fourth period, the last at 60 when Scott drove in for a layup.
Marshall then forced a shot clock violation on the next WKU possession and Victrum found Hamilton all alone for the layup on the ensuing possession to give the Herd a 62-60 lead with 35 seconds left.
After another empty WKU trip and two Leah Scott free throws with 11 seconds left, Noble responded with a deep 3-pointer to pull WKU within 64-63 with two seconds left. After timeouts by both teams, Scott salted the game away with two more free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining before WKU’s desperation heave fell short.
The Thundering Herd took great care of the ball all day, turning the ball over just seven times (Marshall C-USA Tournament single-game record) to WKU’s 12. That had a direct effect on points off turnovers, which Marshall also won 18-9.