RICHMOND, Ky. – Freshman Zaria Whitlock took an inbounds pass and hit a driving 10-footer with four seconds left as SIUE women's basketball defeated Eastern Kentucky 62-60 Thursday at McBrayer Arena.
It was the only shot attempt of the game for Whitlock, who was knocked over by her teammates in celebration at midcourt after the game. The Cougars matched their best-ever start to Ohio Valley Conference play at 3-0 with the victory and improved to 6-8 overall.
"You don't make the winning shot if you don't look at the basket and attack like you did," said SIUE Head Coach Paula Buscher to Whitlock, expressing a coachable moment.
Buscher easily could have called the number of her three seniors who finished the game in double figures. Donshel Beck led the Cougars with 23 points followed by 14 from Gwen Adams and 10 from Lauren White.
"We were trying to take whatever the defense would give us," explained Whitlock. "It wasn't necessarily planned for me to get the shot, but that's what happened. I had to step up and knock it down. Jay'Nee (Alston) made a great pass.
"I thought that was a big-time finish for a freshman," said Buscher.
SIUE won what turned out to be a back and forth game with 10 lead changes and nine tie scores.
The Cougars led after one period by seven points 22-15, their biggest lead of the contest. Eastern Kentucky, which fell to 4-8 overall and 1-2 in the OVC, picked up a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds from junior transfer A'Queen Hayes.
EKU would cut the SIUE lead to 32-30 by halftime and then stepped up in the third period. Hayes scored eight and teammate Bria Bass added seven as the Colonels outscored the Cougars 19-8 in the period and grabbed their biggest lead of the game at nine.
"Give credit to EKU because I thought they played a very good game," noted Buscher.
Buscher was pleased that despite scoring just eight points in the third quarter the offense returned in the fourth period.
"I'm proud of how we stuck to it, especially in the fourth quarter," said Buscher. "We just grinded point by point to get back into it."
The Cougars pulled to within two points (51-49) the 6:01 mark of the game on a tip-in by Beck. Offensive rebounding played a part late, especially on that possession. Beck's bucket was SIUE's fourth field goal attempt on that possession.
White put SIUE ahead 56-55 with 3:12 to play on a layup off a perfect bounce pass from Adams.
EKU didn't back off, regaining a three-point lead after a pair of free throws by Bass with 1:41 left.
Adams scored SIUE's next four points on a layup with 1:26 to play and a pair of free throws with 27.5 seconds left. That put the Cougars ahead 60-59.
Hayes drew a foul of 13 seconds left. She made her first free throw attempt to tie the game but rimmed out on the second.
SIUE forced the ball down to its offensive end only to have the ball swiped out of bounds by an EKU player. That led to Alston taking the ball out of bounds on the baseline. Whitlock found herself open and used her momentum to move toward the basket, hitting the jumper with four ticks left.
The Cougars play the final game of what has been a six-game road swing Saturday at Morehead State. Game time is 1 p.m. CT in Morehead, Kentucky.