Highland Heights, Ky. – Brittany Starling’s layup with five seconds remaining gave the USC Upstate Spartans a 71-69 victory over Northern Kentucky in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) on Thursday at BB&T Arena. The Spartans overcame a 12-point halftime deficit for their first postseason victory at the Division I level.
“This was a big win for us,” head coach Tammy George said. “We finally got over the hump and got a postseason win. This is our third time in the tournament and we are excited to continue our season.”
Upstate improves to 21-11 with the win while Northern Kentucky ends the season at 19-14. The 21 wins are a school record for the Division I era and the third-most in school history.
Raven Jefferson led Upstate with 17 points, followed by Starling and Kristen Dickerson with 13 points and Travonda Haddock with 10. Starling pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the year. Dickerson was a perfect 10-for-10 at the free throw line, finishing one shy of her career best.
Kasey Uetrecht led Northern Kentucky with 14 points, followed by Courtney Roush with 12 points. Molly Franson and Shar’Rae Davis each scored 12 points.
After an Upstate timeout with 18 seconds remaining, Dickerson had a layup blocked by Rebecca Lyttle but Starling picked up the offensive rebound in the paint before making the game-winning shot. On the ensuing Northern Kentucky possession, Uetrecht was fouled but missed both free throws with A’Lexxus Davis securing the defensive rebound to seal the win.
The Spartans opened the game on a 7-0 run capped by a Jefferson three-pointer with 6:24 to play in the opening period. The Norse trimmed the Spartan advantage to 7-6 following a Christine Roush three-pointer at the 3:35 mark only to have the Spartans answer with another Jefferson three-pointer. NKU took an 13-12 lead following a Franson jumper with 70 seconds to go in the quarter before Upstate made four straight free throws to lead 16-13 after the opening frame.
Northern Kentucky opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run as the Norse took a 20-18 lead after two free throws by Uetrecht. After Dickerson hit two free throws to tie the game at 20, NKU went on an 11-3 run for a 31-23 lead with 3:30 remaining in the quarter. Davis completed the first half scoring with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left as NKU led 42-30 at halftime.
Jefferson opened the second half scoring with a three-pointer 12 seconds into the third quarter. Following a Davis jumper that gave the hosts a 49-39 lead, Upstate went on an 8-0 run sparked by a Dickerson three-pointer to pull within two, 49-47, with 4:59 to go in the period.
Starling tied the game at 51 on a layup with 3:26 to play, with Upstate taking the lead on a Haddock jumper just inside the two minute mark. The Spartans and Norse finished the third quarter tied at 57 after Starling hit a jumper inside the paint just inside of the 10 second mark. Upstate outscored Northern Kentucky 27-15 in the third quarter and finished 9-for-13 from the field (62.9%) in that quarter.
The fourth quarter began with a Jefferson three-pointer which gave Upstate a 60-57 lead before the Norse tied the game at 61 on a Franson jumper with 6:51 left. Upstate used back-to-back three-pointers by Clency and Jefferson to take a 67-61 lead at the fourth quarter media timeout. Northern Kentucky went on an 8-2 run, tying the game on a Uetrecht three-pointer with 25 seconds left and setting the stage for Starling’s heroics.
“This team has battled all year,” George said. We are a senior-led team that didn’t want their careers to end tonight. I am so proud of the team, it was an amazing win. We refused to lose tonight.”
Upstate went 23-for-61 (37.7%) from the field and was 9-for-19 (47.4%) from behind the arc. The Spartans made 16 of 17 free throw attempts and didn’t miss their first free throw until the 7:37 mark of the fourth quarter.
Upstate returns to the Hodge Center on Saturday, hosting Western Illinois in the second round of the WBI at 7 p.m.