Leathernecks thrash Mavericks : Clemens scores 36 points in 96-56 victory



Emily Clemens races up the court in their 96-56 victory over the Omaha Mavericks Sunday afternoon.

Devon Greene, Sports Editor

The Western Illinois University Leatherneck women’s basketball team cruised their way to a near wire-to-wire victory in a 97-57 rout of the University of Omaha Mavericks.

The Leathernecks dominated the Mavericks in both of their season meetings. Western manhandled Omaha on their home court with a 90-51 victory and it was more of the same when they blew-out the Mavericks in Macomb, Ill. with a 103-68 victory.

The first quarter was tightly contested by both teams. Western’s junior forward Taylor Higginbotham opened the game with an easy layup and Omaha responded quickly with a layup of their own. Junior guard Jess Walter gave the Mavericks their only lead of the game at 5-4 with a three-point jumper.

Senior point guard Emily Clemens and Higginbotham accounted for 13 of the Leathernecks’ 24 points in the first quarter and 40 of the 56 points in the first half. Clemens was scoring at an extremely efficient rate in the first half, going 8-9 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line. Higginbotham was not far behind shooting 7-10 from the field and 1-2 from the three-point line.

The Mavericks were able to stick with the Purple and Gold in the first quarter in large part because of their three-point shooting. Both teams attempted 17 shots in the first quarter and even though Western finished shooting 64 percent from the field, far better than the 41 percent from Omaha, the Leathernecks found themselves only leading 24-20. The Mavericks sunk five three-pointers in the first quarter that kept them in the game.

Their defense was suffocating and recorded 9 steals in the first half. Clemens, the Summit League leader in steals, snatched away five of her own and eight in the game which is tied for second all-time in tournament game history. The Mavericks were unable to find the bottom of the net while the Purple and Gold and Clemens were having their way with the Omaha defense. Clemens scored 20 points that helped the Leathernecks outscore Omaha 32-6 in the second quarter and take a 56-26 lead going into halftime. Clemens saw how important it was for the team to jump out to a lead early and get a rhythm going.

“We just wanted to come out strong and come out with a good start and hopefully that would continue throughout the game and I think we were able to do that,” Clemens said. “ We went on a run there at the beginning and it just continued.”

The third quarter was more of the same for the Leathernecks. Clemens opened the half with five straight points before Omaha’s junior guard Amber Vidal broke the Mavericks’ scoring drought with a mid-range jumper. Vidal was one of only three Maverick players to score in the third quarter and was the main source of offense for them all afternoon.

With a slashing layup scored by Clemens with 6:27 left in the third quarter Western extended their lead to 67-31 but the more staggering part was that Clemens had scored her 31st point of the game which was equal to the entire point total of Omaha. The Mavericks and Leathernecks exchanged baskets for the remainder of the third quarter and the Purple and Gold took a 77-39 lead into the fourth.

Omaha found some fight left in their team in the fourth quarter and it was the only closely contested period of play since the first. Junior center Courtney Vaccher was able to bully her way to a couple baskets in the paint and Vidal kept nailing her mid-range jumpers, but they were still unable to make any dent in the 48 point lead and fell 97-57 in the first round of the Summit League playoffs.

The Leathernecks advance to play the South Dakota State Coyotes tomorrow which has been a tough matchup for the Lady Leathernecks all season. They dropped both of their first two meetings against the Coyotes, including a heartbreaking loss on senior night which is all the motivation Clemens needs for their game tomorrow.

“South Dakota State is tough and everyone in this conference knows how good and capable they are at getting back to the NCAA tournament,” Clemens said. “We are ready for a shot at them. We didn’t shoot the ball that well when we played them the first time so we’re ready.”

Leatherneck head coach, JD Gravina stressed how important this game was in finding their groove going into tomorrow’s rematch with the second seed in the Summit League.

“South Dakota State has defended us so well both times we’ve played them this year so we’re going to have to know that things are going to get tougher,” Gravina said. “This helped us get some momentum, especially when we’re not so dependent on our three-point shots like we were tonight. Hopefully that will carry us over into tomorrow.”

Gravina also knows how important of an influence Clemens made in this game and will have to make going into tomorrow.

“She’s going to have to do it again,” Gravina said. “And she’s been doing it all year. She’s such a neat kid to coach, she’s been really fun to be around. I’ve loved the way she’s approached her senior year. Even after such a spectacular junior year, she’s shown us that she has a lot left to prove.”

The conference rivals square off at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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