NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Chastity Gooch managed to stay on the floor long enough to power a big comeback by Western Kentucky.
Gooch had 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots, and the Lady Toppers used a big closing run to beat Arkansas State 61-60 in the final of the Sun Belt women's tournament on Saturday night.
No. 2 seed Western Kentucky, which lost to the top-seeded Red Wolves in both of their regular-season meetings, scored 18 of the last 22 points. It trailed from the 11:00 mark of the first half until going ahead 59-58 on Bianca McGee's 3-pointer with 2:30 left.
Arkansas State went back up on Carlisha Wyatt's layup with 1:39 left, but Kendall Noble responded with a layup at the 1:21 mark. The Red Wolves' Aundrea Gamble missed a contested shot inside in the final seconds and could not retrieve the ball in a scrum under the basket as time ran out.
The Lady Toppers then raced onto the court in a wild celebration while the stunned Red Wolves headed to the locker room.
"We're a family and we'd come this far and we couldn't let each other down now," said Gooch, who was named tournament MVP. "We stuck together and got the win."
Western Kentucky appeared to be in big trouble when Gooch picked up her fourth foul with 11:21 left. The Lady Toppers were facing a 12-point deficit, but Gooch played the rest of the way, scoring eight points, including a 3-pointer right after Arkansas State took its largest lead at 49-35.
Noble had 12 points for Western Kentucky (24-8), which won the Sun Belt tournament for the seventh time. McGee had eight of her 10 points in the last five minutes.
"We never stopped and we never gave up," coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. "That was the biggest thing that I was talking to them about. We were going to just keep fighting until the end, and that's what we did."