Hayes leads Golden Eagles to 69-59 win over WKU Lady 'Toppers

Game featured two of the all-time most successful women's basketball programs

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tacarra Hayes knew it was a great rivalry. She knew it was an historic rivalry.

But the Tennessee Tech senior had never faced Western Kentucky, the team that sits exactly 100 miles from her hometown of Lebanon, Ky.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Valley Conference preseason Player of the Year got her first chance to face the ‘Toppers, and WKU got its first look of her versatility. Hayes scored 30 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists and made four steals to lead the Golden Eagles to a 69-59 victory in Eblen Center.

The game, the first of two this season between the long-time powers, featured two of the most successful teams in women’s college basketball history. Coming into the contest, Tennessee Tech ranked eighth all-time with 839 victories. Western Kentucky is ranked 11th all-time with 821 wins.

That’s 1,660 victories between them.

Now there are 1,661 total victories – with 840 belonging to the Golden Eagles.

Hayes got plenty of support, including 15 points from Briana Jordan. Molly Heady scored nine, Brittany Darling had eight and Kellie Cook added five points and six rebounds.

The Golden Eagles shot 16-for-18 at the free throw line and forced 24 WKU turnovers, making a season-high 12 steals, but those were the only numbers where Tech had an advantage. WKU shot the ball better, hitting 43.6 percent (24-for-55) compared with 36.5 percent (23-for-63) by the Golden Eagles. Rebounds were dead-even at 38 apiece. Western Kentucky had an edge in blocked shots and assists.

WKU also led in points in the paint (28-24) and bench points (22-17).

The difference came in second-chance points, where the Golden Eagles held a 23-14 advantage, thanks to 20 offensive rebounds.

LaTeira Owens led WKU with 16 points, hitting 7-for-10 from the field. Keshia Mosley added 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Vanessa Obafemi scored nine points and had five of WKU’s six steals.

WKU had the early edge, pulling on top by as many as six points in the first five minutes, but Hayes got the Golden Eagles untracked, scoring her team’s first 10 points. Hayes’ 10th point and a basket by Jordan cut the lead to one, and two free throws by Hayes had Tech on top for the first time, 14-13, with 12:37 to play. The hosts led for all but one minute from that point until the break.

Tech’s largest advantage in the opening half was six, coming a couple of times following 3-pointers by Heady and Jordan. WKU tied things at 35-35 with 1:03 to play, before Jordan drained another trey with 45 seconds left to send the Golden Eagles to the break with a 38-35 lead.

An 11-2 Tech run early in the second half gave the Golden Eagles a double digit lead, moving from a 43-39 lead to a 54-41 with 10:25 to play. Tech’s largest lead came at the 6:14 mark when Hayes hit a layup to make it a 16-point margin at 59-43.

Tech also held a 16-point lead with 2:52 to play, 65-49, when Darling canned a layup. Hayes, who was 14-for-15 at the free throw line, made her final five tries to maintain the lead and send Tech (3-6) to its third win of the year. WKU (2-7) remained winless on the road this year.

The two teams will meet one more time this season, with a game in Bowling Green on Jan. 17.

Up next for the Golden Eagles is a road game Saturday afternoon against another former OVC rival, Samford. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. in Birmingham.