As the final seconds ticked down, women’s basketball saw its postseason aspirations remain alive with a 66-53 victory over Southeast Missouri State Wednesday night.
While the Racers have dealt with injuries this season that have caused the team issues down the stretch, one player has been taking advantage of the extra playing time.
Junior center Netayna Jackson’s career highs coming into this week were nine points against UT Martin and eight rebounds against Austin Peay.
This week Jackson earned the OVC Newcomer of the Week for her play against Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Jackson scored a career-high 11 points against the Panthers and followed up the performance with nine points and a career-high 14 rebounds against SIUE.
Head Coach Rob Cross said he had seen improvement but it finally showed on the court this week.
Jackson’s progress relates to change she has made during the season.
“I stopped being negative when things stopped going well,” Jackson said. “I also had to stop being passive and start cutting to the basket to score.”
With Jackson’s game performances continuing to show improvement, Cross believes it will continue to grow.
“Right now she has an opportunity to get some minutes and a chance to build on something,” Cross said.
The Racers kept their postseason hopes alive due to a second half effort in a the matchup with SEMO.
“It feels great to stay alive and we have been pushing and staying positive to the end,” senior forward Jessica Winfrey said.
Freshman Taylor Porter scored five points in the first two minutes to give the Racers the early 7-4 lead.
The Racers countered an aggressive attack by the Redhawks by forcing the ball inside to get their opponents into foul trouble. Murray State drew 13 first half fouls against SEMO and took advantage on the free throw line.
The Redhawks pushed out to a six-point lead with 11 minutes left, but the Racers answered three minutes later with free throws by Winfrey to tie the game. Tied at 22, the Redhawks scored a 3-pointer late in the half to take a 27-24 lead into the locker room.
Porter hit four of the team’s six shots to lead the Racers with 10 points at intermission.
“It felt great to (get into a rhythm),” Porter said. “It felt like everything I was throwing up went in.”
Murray State turned to the long ball in the opening minutes of the second half as Porter and freshman guard Janssen Starks scored back-to-back 3’s to give the Racers the lead. SEMO answered and retook the lead midway through the second half.
The Redhawks got within one point with seven minutes left but an 11-2 run gave the Racers a comfortable lead to the finish.
After trailing by nine rebounds at halftime, Murray State out rebounded the Redhawks by 11 in the decisive half.
“I think the rebounding is what helped us,” Jackson said. “When we went to the glass it slowed the game down and let us play our style.”
Porter led the Racers with a career-high 25 points and Jessica Winfrey hauled in her eighth double-double of the season with an 18-point,13-rebound performance.
Jackson kept her impressive performances going as she scored nine points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“I’ve been needing to be more physical and dominating,” Jackson said. “My teammates are depending on me and I’m trying my best.”
The Racers now turn their attention to UT Martin, who clinched both the divisional and conference championship last weekend.
“Martin is a tough place to play and we will have to have the same focus as we did tonight,” Cross said. “We have to go into the game and just continue to play hard.”
Murray State returns to action at UT Martin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer