By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 14, 2015) — Kathy Thomas scored 19 points, but it was on defense where she made her biggest play to lead Tarleton State to a 61-56 upset of Lone Star conference leader and 20th ranked Midwestern State at Wisdom Gym Wednesday evening.
With Tarleton applying full-court pressure, Thomas stepped in front of a Midwestern inbound pass for her third steal with 48 seconds remaining in a 56-56 tie.
“I was just thinking, don’t foul,” said Thomas of the steal. “I was able to get in position and do what my team needed to win the game. That game was lots of fun.”
Twelve seconds later, Raven McGrath fired an assist to sophomore forward Ikpeaku Iwobi, who banked home the game-winner from the left block. Iwobi had 16 points and 12 boards, her second straight double-double and the sixth of her career.
Thomas wasn’t done. The senior guard rebounded a missed layup by Lisa Hampton and was fouled by Shambreka Jones. She went to the stripe and knocked down the second of two free throws, giving the TexAnns a 59-56 edge with 14 seconds left.
That’s when MSU made its biggest error. The ball was inbounded to Whitney Taylor, but she immediately – and uncontestedly – lost her footing and was whistled for traveling with 11 seconds left.
Tarleton inbounded the ball to McGrath, and to the satisfaction of first-year head coach Misty Wilson, she gave it up to junior guard Bailey Wipff, who was immediately fouled.
Wipff buried both free throws – the only time Tarleton hit both from the stripe in the second half – to finish the scoring with nine seconds left.
“I was screaming at Raven to get the ball to Bailey,” said Wilson, who became just the second Tarleton coach to win her first game against MSU. “I have faith in any of our players to hit those shots in that situation, but I know Bailey’s nerves stay steady all the time, so I thought she was the best one to get to the line.”
Tarleton was just 2-8 from the stripe in the second half before Wipff’s pair. For the game, the TexAnns were 8-15 and MSU was 16-24.
Following the crucial free throws, MSU was left facing a five-point deficit and not enough time for two possessions. Taylor missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left, and neither team could reel in the loose ball before time expired.
The game was close throughout with neither team leading by more than seven. Until Wipff’s clinching free throws, neither club led by more than four over the final 10 minutes.
Thomas had 11 points at halftime, including Tarleton’s first five for a 5-1 lead.
“I was just trying to take what the defense gave me, not try to do too much,” said the senior guard.
But she did a lot. In addition to going 7-11 from the floor including 2-3 from the arc for 19 points, the senior guard collected three steals, three rebounds and two assists.
Midwestern was led by Andrea Carter with 15 points and six boards. Carter, who averages a double-double, played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. Dianna Jones scored 12 but went down with 4:59 remaining, appearing to injure her right knee. Jones, who has a history of knee injuries, was helped from the court, putting no weight on the right leg.
Janae McJunkins was also in double figures with 10 for MSU. The Mustangs shot just 35.2 percent from the floor, while Tarleton shot 42.1 percent.
Tarleton’s biggest lead came early at 12-6, but MSU responded with eight straight points by four different players for a two-point edge. The first half was then tied three times – the last at 20 – before MSU outscored the TexAnns 13-8 over the final eight minutes for a 33-28 edge at the break.
MSU’s largest lead was seven twice early in the second half, but Wipff, who scored nine points while collecting six boards and three assists in 22 minutes off the bench, buried a 3-pointer to touch off a 10-3 Tarleton run that knotted the game at 40-40 with 10:22 left. The run included a Meagan O’Dell 3-pointer to pull the TexAnns with in two, before Iwobi tied it up in the paint.
Iwobi was there again for Tarleton to cut it to 46-45 with 7:07 left, and a free throw by Moore tied the score 53 seconds later. Tarleton finally grabbed the advantage on a jumper by – who else – Iwobi, with 5:49 to play.
Thomas, McGrath and Wipff each made shots to provide a four-point edge at the 2:48 mark, but MSU wouldn’t go away, using a pair of foul shots by McJunkins and a jumper by Carter to even it up at 54-54 before Thomas’ big left-handed layup with 1:54 left.
Carter tied it once more for MSU with 1:28 remaining, but Tarleton scored the final five.
The TexAnns won for the 17th time in the last 21 meetings between the teams, and moved within a half-game of MSU at the top of the LSC standings.
Tarleton visits Cameron at 2 p.m. Saturday in Lawton, Oklahoma. MSU visits Texas Women’s at 3 p.m. Sunday in Denton.