Hoppers career high not enough against Eastern Kentucky
RICHMOND, Ky. - The Tennessee Tech women's basketball team blew out Eastern Kentucky when the two teams met earlier this season, and it looked like the Lady Colonels would return the favor early in Thursday's OVC contest at McBrayer Arena. However, Tech came back from an early 17-point deficit to take the lead late before falling to the fourth-place Lady Colonels, 61-60.
Tech's Tiara Hopper came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points, while Tacarra Hayes and Krystal Stirrup also finished in double-figures with 16 and 13 points, respectively, as the Golden Eagles shot 50.0 percent (22-of-44) from the field for the first time this season.
Hopper finished 8-of-13 from the field for the game and also added five rebounds in 31 minutes of action.
The game did not start as the Golden Eagles would have liked as Eastern Kentucky jumped out to a 9-3 lead less than three minutes into the game. Following a TTU timeout, Hayes' layup cut the deficit to four, but the Lady Colonels scored on back-to-back possessions to put EKU ahead, 14-5.
Eastern Kentucky kept the pressure on and scored the next eight points as part of a 14-0 run, giving the Lady Colonels a 22-5 lead before Stirrup's jumper ended Tech's scoreless drought.
Head coach Sytia Messer turned to her bench, and it paid off as Hopper and sophomore Rachel Glidden gave the Golden Eagles an instant lift. Less than 10 seconds after entering the game, Hopper got loose underneath the hoop for a quick two, and Glidden connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to help TTU cut their deficit to 26-16.
Tech defense picked it up from there, forcing Eastern Kentucky into several turnovers and holding the Lady Colonels to just two points over the next seven-plus minutes. Tech cut its deficit to five points, 28-23, during the stretch and the difference would remain until halftime with a score of 34-29.
The Golden Eagles continued to chip away throughout the early stages of the second half and cut the EKU lead to one on three separate occasions, the last of which was on a jumper by Hayes to bring the score to 42-41. After Tech forced EKU into a missed reverse layup attempt, Kylie Cook spotted up from 25 feet and knocked down the deep trifecta to give TTU its first lead of the game with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, 44-42.
A bucket by EKU on its next possession tied the game at 44-44, and from that point, the game was played within two points for the next six minutes until Hopper's hustle gave Tech another boost. After deflecting a Lady Colonel pass into the backcourt, Hopper was a step behind EKU's Alex Jones as they raced to track the ball down, but the Louisville, Ky., native dove in front of Jones to gain control of the ball and call timeout.
Following the play, Tech opened up a three-point advantage, 54-51, with just less than six minutes remaining in the game. After EKU's Sarah Fraser-Jones converted on a three-point play to tie the game, Hopper and Hayes got inside on two Golden Eagles possessions to push their lead to its largest of the game, 58-54.
Eastern Kentucky closed the gap to two points, 58-56, inside of two minutes, but Stirrup grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back to against give the Tech a four-point lead with under a minute to play.
However, EKU made a 3-pointer on its next possession to cut its deficit to one, and the Lady Colonels immediately fouled Hayes, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with less than 30 seconds remaining. Eastern Kentucky's Shakeyia Colyer came down and put in a layup that turned out to be the game-winner with 18 seconds remaining in the game.
EKU missed a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining and Hayes had a runner from the top of the key for the win, but it was off the mark as the Lady Colonels snapped a six-game OVC losing streak.
The Golden Eagles return to action on Saturday, February 6 when they travel to Morehead State for a 5:15 p.m. contest.