Things weren't looking all that promising for the University of Toledo women last night in a bid to knock off Kent State, their basketball nemesis in the Mid-American Conference in recent years.
Rocket senior leader Kahli Carter went to the bench with her fourth foul and the defending MAC-champion Golden Flashes hit two free throws to go up 49-44 with 9:10 remaining.
But - thanks to an increased defensive effort and a spark provided by backup sophomore guard Lisa Miller - UT came alive for a 61-60 victory at Savage Hall that ended Kent's 12-game MAC winning streak.
“We played pretty good defense and that was one of the keys,” UT coach Mark Ehlen said. “Our help defense was as good as it's been all year and our board work (38-29 edge) was solid. The other big thing about this game was Lisa Miller. We wouldn't have won this game without her.”
Miller, whose career-high 12 points came on 4-of-5 3-point shooting, hit a trey with 8:32 left and another with 6:11 remaining to put the Rockets (11-5, 4-1 MAC) on top 52-49, a lead they would not relinquish.
“I was feeling good shooting that shot in pregame, so I knew when I went in there I could make it,” Miller said. “Last year they got us twice, so we definitely owed them one. We were ready to play.”
When sophomore forward Tia Davis (11 points, 11 rebounds) rebounded her own miss and scored 34 seconds later, UT capped a decisive 10-0 run with Carter (11 points, seven boards) out.
“It was payback for last year's championship game,” said Davis, “and it was real important because we just got beat by BG (Jan. 13) and we needed to get rolling again.”
It was nearly the final surge in a game of ebbs and flows. UT had separate 10-2 and 14-4 runs and Kent a 14-2 spurt in the first half. But Kent had one more offensive surge left.
The Flashes (10-6, 5-1) - who had beaten UT in the regular season and in the MAC Tournament final last year, continuing a string of five wins over the Rockets in seven meetings - rallied from a 59-52 deficit from the 4:04 mark to within one point on a Julie Studer (18 points) putback with 2:22 remaining.
But Toledo's Melantha Herron (10 points) worked inside for a basket with 2:00 left, and Kent's final points came on two free throws from guard Carrie Nance (17 points) with 19.1 seconds left. This came seven ticks after Davis missed the front end of a bonus chance at the line.
“The game kept going back and forth and you just had a feeling it was going to go down to the wire,” Ehlen said. “We had a three-point lead and could've iced it at the line. But, no, we had to make it interesting.”
When freshman Rocket guard Mary Blessing missed another front end with 15 seconds remaining, Kent had a chance to spoil things for UT. But Herron stole an entry pass from Christi Shibata to Studer with two seconds left, and held on as the final buzzer sounded.