After a long, hard game of catch-up, it wasn’t an ideal season opener for the Racers, Friday night.
Led by junior guard Erica Burgess, with 22 points, five rebounds and two steals, Murray State struggled to overcome Western Kentucky’s full court press and perimeter shooting, losing the game by a score of 80-69.
The Murray State starting lineup featured freshman forward Kelsey Dirks, junior forward Jessica Winfrey, freshman guard Erika Sisk, Burgess and senior guard Tessa Elkins.
Shooting only 25.8 percent in the first half, the Racers trailed behind a dominant Western Kentucky offense led by forward Chastity Gooch and guard Alexis Govan who combined for 44 points. Western Kentucky never looked back and left the Racers trailing by 11 after the first ten minutes.
“You’ve got to give (Western Kentucky) a lot of credit,” Cross said. “I told the team they were going to come and run us out of doing what we wanted to do. That’s what they did. They dominated the middle game tonight.”
A frantic, quick tempo from both teams kept the scoring percentages low. By the end of the first half, Murray State had a 33.3 shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
“The low shooting percentage is really the result of our team panicking a little bit,” Cross said. “The times we did get through the press in the first half, we rushed shots and we changed a lot of shots. A lot of double, triple pumps and missing layups.”
The Racers struggled to pass the ball effectively, turning it over 13 times in the first half.
After 15 minutes in the locker room, the Racers revamped their offensive and showed hope for a comeback in the second half when Winfrey put her first points on the board.
Dirks’ return to the court gave a much needed height advantage to Murray State, with an imposing presence below the rim that kept the Hilltoppers from penetrating to make big plays. Adapting quickly to the change in defense, Western Kentucky kept their game in the perimeter.
Taking advantage of an overpowering defense from their opponent, the Racers drew big fouls, putting them at the line where they would make 14 of 19 freethrows in the second half.
Burgess and Sisk worked together to shrink the lead to nine points, revitalizing the crowd and the energy of the offense. After a quick steal and layup from Burgess, she flashed a smile to the ecstatic Racer bench and excited crowd.
“We weren’t as panicked in the second half, Cross said. “We had some moments, but the second half is more of what we’ve seen in practice. We didn’t turn over the ball as much. Eight times is too many, but we took better care of the ball.”
The moment was short lived as the Hilltoppers returned focus and constructed plays with Govan, who charged past triple coverage to extend the lead back to double digits.
The game came to a close with the ball in possession of Govan on the ground, ending the hard-fought battle for the ball.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” Cross said. “We’ve got to learn from this and move on.”
The Racers’ next game will be Monday at 7 p.m. in the CFSB Center against Indiana.
Story by Carly Besser, Staff writer.