HUNTINGTON — Over the past two years, Marshall’s women’s basketball team appeared to have Western Kentucky reeled in, only to let the Hilltoppers leave Huntington with comeback wins.
Those losses stuck with Kentucky-born players Savannah Wheeler and Kristen Mayo, who had never tasted a win over the Conference USA East Division rival.
On Thursday night, Wheeler and Mayo turned those fortunes in a big way, leading the Herd offense to its top output of the season in an 81-54 win over Western Kentucky — the Thundering Herd’s first-ever in the regular season over the Hilltoppers.
“I know that’s a special game for them,” Marshall head coach Tony Kemper said. “Kristen, Sav, Kia (Sivils) — those Kentucky players. They have really gotten us. I do think this group has been through two games here where we felt like we let them off the hook here.”
Coming in, Marshall was 1-14 overall against Western Kentucky with the lone win coming in the 2016 Conference USA Tournament.
This one was never in doubt, however, as the Herd jumped out quickly and never let the Hilltoppers get closer than four points. This was Marshall’s largest margin of victory in Conference USA action since Jan. 19, 2019, when the Herd earned an 86-58 win at Florida International.
Wheeler, a Catlettsburg native, was a big part of that success, finishing with 20 points while dishing out six assists with no turnovers in the win.
Meanwhile, Mayo — a Grayson product — was 7 of 11 from the floor for 18 points with a team-best five rebounds and four assists.
“It gives us a little motivation where we’re from Kentucky but, overall, it was good to have everybody back,” Wheeler said.
Especially for Mayo, the performance was a big boost moving forward. The senior had appeared in two games previously for the Herd before being sidelined as part of the team’s issues with contact tracing.
This was the first game since the loss to Kentucky on Dec. 9 in which Marshall’s team had the majority of its team back in tact to start a game.
Mayo took advantage of the opportunity quickly, knocking down two 3-pointers in the early going as the Herd rattled off a 13-2 run to open the game, which set the special night in motion.
She said the key was staying loose and playing her game instead of pressuring herself to perform a certain way.
“You’ve got to take the right ones and if they go in, they go in,” Mayo said of knocking down her opening shot. “If they don’t, they don’t. You’ve just got to keep working on it.”
Mayo’s top quarter came in the second when the Herd wavered a bit, but the senior scored eight points to lead the team to a halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, Marshall’s depth started to take over and the offense got into rhythm quickly, going on another 12-0 run, highlighted by a step-back 3-pointer on a cross-over from Wheeler that put the game away after Western Kentucky had cut the lead to five points.
One of the keys for the Herd was its ability to take care of the basketball. Marshall had just nine turnovers in the contest, as compared to 19 for the Hilltoppers. That helped Marshall to a 16-2 lead in fast-break points.
Raneem Elgedawy made her season debut for the Hilltoppers and got into the flow quickly, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead Western Kentucky (2-7, 1-2 C-USA). Fatou Pouye added 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
The two teams match up once again on Sunday afternoon in a 3 p.m. matchup at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Kentucky.