NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 7-seeded Eastern Kentucky University women’s basketball team held on to beat No. 3 SIUE, 61-58, in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament on Friday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium.
EKU (12-19) will now face No. 1 Belmont in the OVC Championship game on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. ET.
The Colonels led by 13, 36-23, when junior Madison Wood converted a layup along the baseline with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Eastern still led by double digits, 45-35, when senior Jalen O’Bannon scored early in the fourth quarter. However, SIUE (14-17) responded by going on 11-2 run and pulled to within one, 47-46, when Cloe Churchill knocked down a free throw with 6:17 left in the game.
That is when Shavontae Naylor took over. The senior scored or assisted on EKU’s next 10 points, as her final jumper in the stretch gave the Colonels some breathing room, 57-52, with 3:08 on the clock.
SIUE was not finished, though. The Cougars stormed back once again and made it a one-point game, 59-58, when Donshel Beck drained a jumper with 36 seconds remaining.
On EKU’s ensuing possession, senior Mariah Massengill responded. The point guard buried a jump shot from the top of the key with nine ticks on the clock to push the lead back out to three.
SIUE missed a potential equalizing three-point attempt on the other end, and EKU held on for the win to set up a rematch of last year’s OVC title game.
Naylor knocked down a career-high 10 field goals to finish with 20 points and four rebounds. O’Bannon chipped in 16 points and nine boards, while Massengill had 10 points and team-best four assists.
For the second straight game, the EKU defense put the clamps on its opponent. The Colonels held SIUE to 33 percent (19-of-57) shooting from the floor and 22 percent (2-of-9) shooting from deep.
Eastern was out-rebounded in the game, 44-32; however, the Colonels won the turnover battle, 17-12.
The two teams played a low-scoring first half. EKU took its largest lead of the half, 19-12, when Wood blocked a shot and found Naylor on the break for a layup with 6:40 on the clock in the second quarter. SIUE, however, cut the lead to four, 25-21, with a free throw just before halftime.
The Colonels stifled SIUE to 1-of-14 shooting from the field in the second quarter. The Cougars did not hit a field goal in the final 5:38 of the first half.
EKU outscored SIUE, 11-2, to open the second half and grabbed a 13-point advantage when Wood converted a layup along the baseline to make it 36-23 with 5:20 showing on the clock in the third quarter.
SIUE, however, pulled back to within one, 47-46, with 6:17 left to play, setting up Naylor’s late-game heroics.