Women’s basketball snaps South Dakota’s home streak


Jake Thompson

Sophomore Taylor Higginbotham goes 6 for 17 from the field in 35 minutes during Saturday’s game.

VERMILLION, S.D. — Entering the game on Saturday, South Dakota (18-4, 7-2 in Summit League play) women’s basketball had the third longest active winning streak in division one at 24 games. Western Illinois (16-6, 6-3) had other plans and made that streak history, defeating the Coyotes 86-78 with intensity from start to finish.

“It’s a pretty neat feeling,” said Western Illinois head coach JD Gravina. “Our quote before the game was why not us. Obviously, we hit shots to get off to a good start. I don’t think people realize how hard a quick travel turnaround this is.”

The Coyotes led 5-3 with 7:20 left in the first quarter but a 3-pointer by Taylor Higginbotham on the next Leatherneck possession provided the only lead change of the game.

Both teams exchanged baskets until Emily Clemens got a floater to fall in from the left side and Higginbotham split a pair at the free throw line, giving Western a 21-15 lead after one quarter of play.

“This is the most consistently intense team I’ve ever coached,” Gravina said. “We deserve to be that team that makes that magical run. We go out and play intense whether we’re hitting shots or not and that’s what you want.”

Back-to-back threes by Taylor Hanneman and Michelle Farrow forced an early South Dakota timeout less than a minute into the second quarter. The Coyotes trailed 27-15 at home something they haven’t been used to at home.

Three minutes into the second frame, Morgan Blumer drilled another triple, and the Leatherneck defense stayed strong before Clemens hit from behind the arc putting Western back ahead by a dozen, 35-23, with 5:40 remaining in the first half.

On thing the Coyotes did well all night was to get the free throw line often. Halfway through the second quarter, South Dakota trailed 37-28 but the Leathernecks were just getting started. Higginbotham scored five straight points followed by a Mallory Boyle layup and Clemens fast break lay in to grab Western’s largest lead of the afternoon 46-28.

An old fashioned three point play by Arens was the last blow for the Coyotes in the first half with Western Illinois controlling the game 46-31 at halftime.

“Losing the halftime lead to IUPUI really helped us a lot,” Blumer said. “This game, we knew we couldn’t blow it again, and we really came out strong in the second half.”

A Blumer three followed by two free throws put the Leathernecks back ahead by 18 points 55-37 with 7:12 left in the third quarter.

Western connected on nine trifectas in the first half, with Blumer knocking down two more in the third quarter but that was about from deep in the second half. Megan Bonar’s put-back at the buzzer fired the home crowd with the Leathernecks taking a 66-56 advantage into the fourth quarter.

“I told the team we’re up 10 going into the fourth quarter against one of the top teams in the conference,” Gravina said. “This is right where we want to be but it won’t be easy.”

Of course, the Coyotes wouldn’t go down without a fight. Allison Arens buried a corner triple to cut the deficit to six at 70-64 with 7:30 to go in the fourth quarter. Higginbotham answered it quickly on the other end with a three-pointer of her own.

South Dakota began to catch fire from deep after a deep three by Madison McKeever was followed up with another trey by Arens. All of a sudden, with two minutes remaining in regulation, it was a one possession game, 79-76, with the Leathernecks trying to hang on for the tough road victory.

As expected, it came down to the foul line where Western made 8 of 10 down the stretch, securing an 86-78 win over the number-three team in the mid-major poll.

“The greatest thing about our team is our opponent can go on a run but our emotions aren’t out of control,” Blumer said. “We were able to settle down and get a bucket.”

Blumer scored a career-high of 28 points while sinking six 3-pointers. Higginbotham was closing on a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Clemens dished out her career high in assists with 13 helpers while scoring 24 points.

“It’s my job to facilitate the offense,” said junior guard Emily Clemens. “My teammates make me look good but credit them for hitting the open shots.”

Allison Arens went off for 27 points to lead the way for the Coyotes. Bradley had 13 points and three steals while Kate Liveringhouse delivered 11 points off of the bench for South Dakota.

The Leatherneck win also snaps a six game losing streak against South Dakota dating back to Jan. 23, 2014 — ironically in Vermillion at the Dakota Dome 71-61.

“We have to be focused and be ready to have that same mentality again,” Gravina said.

Another long road trip waits for the Leathernecks to Oral Roberts on Wednesday night. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Golden Eagles are 12-10 on the season and 4-5 in the Summit Conference. Oral Roberts took down North Dakota State on Saturday night.

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