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NKU Women earn first postseason win in school history
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (WKRC) --The Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team's lone senior, Kayla Thacker, proved she was not ready for her career to be over Thursday night as she led the Norse to an 84-72 victory over McNeese State at The Bank of Kentucky Center.
Thacker finished with a career-high 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists to lead NKU, which improved to 18-12 overall and captured its first postseason victory since beginning the NCAA Division I transition. She shot 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc and converted on five of her six attempts from the charity stripe.
"I knew this could be the last time I lace up my shoes, so I wanted to come out and show that we could beat this team and go far," Thacker said. "It's really emotional for me."
The Mt. Washington, Ky., native led four players in double figures, as Lauren White scored 16 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor and 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. Melody Doss and Kaitlyn Gerrety each added 12 for the Norse.
Jayln Johnson opened the scoring with a 3-point field goal for McNeese State, but the Norse responded with a 21-4 run, capped by Thacker's second trey of the game and two free throws by Rianna Gayheart, to take a 21-7 lead with 9:29 left in the first half.
During the spurt, the Norse held the Cowgirls scoreless for over four minutes, but Victoria Rachal ended the drought with a 3-pointer on the next possession. McNeese State erased the double-digit lead with a 14-5 run, behind six points from Allison Baggett, to come to within 29-25 with 6:39 remaining on the clock.
NKU closed the half on a 17-2 surge to take a 46-26 advantage into the halftime break. The Norse connected on all eight attempts from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes and finished 62.5 percent from the floor. McNeese shot 37.9 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from long range in the first half.
"We shot the ball very well, which put us in a good position," NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "Defensively, we did really well in the first half, and in the second half they got some shots off that were too good of looks, but we rallied, kept our composure and battled back."
McNeese State, last season's WBI runner-up, used an 11-0 run to start the second half to pull to within nine (46-37) with 16:48 left in the game, but a Thacker layup and four straight points from Sarah Kinch pushed the NKU lead to 52-39 with 14:47 remaining.
The Cowgirls cut the Norse advantage to 52-45 with 13:10 left in the game, and the two teams traded baskets over the next several possessions before NKU used an 18-4 run, led by nine points from Gerrety, to go ahead 72-51 with 6:04 on the clock to regain control of the game.
NKU finished with a slight 32-30 edge in rebounding and shot 55.6 percent from the floor, while limiting McNeese State to 40.9 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent from long range. The Norse went 10-for-14 from behind the 3-point arc and 24-for-27 from the free-throw line. NKU dished out 15 assists on its 25 made field goals.
Kinch came off the bench to score eight points, and she dished out four assists for the Norse. Gerrety pulled down seven rebounds and White grabbed five boards.
Baggett led McNeese State, which ended the season with a 19-14 record, with 16 points. Ceilia Okoye and Rachal finished with 13 points, and Arianna James pulled down a game-high nine rebounds for the Cowgirls, who finished 6-for-9 from the charity stripe.
NKU will now travel to Charleston, S.C., to take on the College of Charleston in the second round of the WBI on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Norse look to avenge last season's 72-70 loss to the Cougars in the first round of the tournament at The Bank of Kentucky Center, which ended NKU's inaugural NCAA Division I season. The No. 2 seed defeated Atlantic Sun Conference foe South Carolina Upstate, 85-71, to advance.
"It's special, but we're not talking about (the team's first postseason victory) until after the season is done because we're focused on our next game," Plitzuweit said. "We take it in and enjoy the precious present because it's a big moment, but we'll celebrate this one after we're done playing. It's something that we want to continue to build on, but not what we're focusing on. Right now, we have work to do. We get on a bus early in the morning and head to the College of Charleston."
Image and information provided by NKU Athletics