Eastern Kentucky used a late 11-2 run to rally from a five-point deficit and held on to defeat Valparaiso 66-64 in the opening round of the FGCU Thanksgiving Classic on Friday evening in Fort Myers, Fla.
Valpo held a 57-52 lead with 5:39 to play in the game and was still up four in the final five minutes before the Lady Colonels went on their run. A three-pointer by Cherie White cut Valpo’s lead to one and two free throws put Eastern Kentucky in front. A three-point play by Crystal Jones increased the lead to four, 63-59 before Valpo retook the lead.
Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) scored from the floor and Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) added two free throws with 1:57 left to put the Crusaders back on top.
A Jones jumper with 22.5 seconds left put the Lady Colonels back in front. Valpo had another chance, but Launa Hochstetler’s (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) missed the mark, forcing the Crusaders to foul. After Eastern Kentucky split free throws, Valpo had one last chance, but Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) missed a jumper from the elbow as time ran out.
The lead teetered back and forth in the first half, with Valpo holding a 29-25 lead with 1:21 to play before break. A six minute stretch where the Crusaders held Eastern Kentucky without a field goal helped but a lead. Back-to-back three-pointers by the Lady Colonels gave Eastern Kentucky the 31-29 advantage at the break.
Eastern Kentucky extended the advantage to 39-31 before a quick 7-0 spurt, capped by a Hochstetler triple, cut the lead to one. Valpo retook the lead on back-to-back threes by Hochstetler and Ott, and maintained a slight advantage until the final minutes.
Litka led the Crusaders with 16 points and a career high eight rebounds while Ott had her second consecutive double-double with 14 points and a career high 12 rebounds. Kulaga also had 10 points for the Crusaders.
Shavonne Jones had a team high 15 points for Eastern Kentucky (2-0) while Crystal Jones added 14 and Ashley Cazee had 11 points.
Valparaiso (0-5) will return to the court on Saturday at 4 p.m. CST as the Crusaders will face Central Connecticut State, a 71-52 loser against host Florida Gulf Coast. The came can be heard live on www.sportsjuice.com.