Necks come out on top in a nail-biter

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — The Western Illinois University women’s basketball team took on Austin Peay over the weekend to close out their two-game home stretch. The Leathernecks came out on top 77-72 and now have a 3-5 record.

The game started off strong for Austin Peay as Brianah Ferby nailed a three-point attempt to set the tone. The Leathernecks looked sluggish out of the gate with three straight turnovers and poor defensive play. The Governors took advantage early and went on a run. They finished the first quarter with 22 points to Western’s nine.

Ferby continued to dominate early in the game with 11 points in the first quarter and nine of those from beyond the arc. During the second quarter, head coach JD Gravina motivated his team to work a little harder on the defensive side of the ball. They forced turnovers and closed out well annoying the outside shooters for Austin Peay that had been so effective so far.

Then the shooting improved for the Leathernecks. First, Olivia Kauffman hit a three, then Annabel Greattinger hit an outside shot, then Grace Gilmore made one too and before you know it, the Leathernecks ended the half on a 24-5 run and took the lead 37-35 before half.

Both teams knew they had to make adjustments at halftime to seal the deal. While the Governors were focused on containing the Purple and Gold and slowing down their pace, Gravina wanted more active hands on defense and also for the Leathernecks to keep forcing Austin Peay to take poor shots.

The third quarter was tooth and nail throughout with neither team giving up anything easy. With two lead changes and multiple ties Peay spent the first few minutes in the lead. Then back-to-back layups from Kauffman allowed Western to sneak ahead 50-48. After a media timeout Western hit back-to-back threes from Kaufman and Taylor Higginbotham to stretch the lead out to eight.

Austin Peay fought back closing in near the end of the third, but the Leathernecks remained in the lead 58-52 headed into the fourth. The Governors made it close quickly hitting an outside shot, but the Leathernecks answered with an easy layup from a great pass by Kauffman.

Ferby hit a midrange jumper to bring them within three, but once more the Leathernecks separated themselves with strong inside play for an easy two. Then Ferby who would not go down without a fight, hit a three to come even closer to the lead. After Gilmore hit two free throws Ferby once more put the pressure on with back- to- back threes closing the gap evening up the game at 72 with 41 seconds to play.

With the game in balance Kauffman stepped up, driving hard to the basket with a great move, and put in the up and under to take the lead. Then a turnover by the Governors and the Leathernecks wrapped it up hitting their free throws to close it out and secure a close win.

The game’s highlights came from Kauffman’s 25 points and Taylor Higginotham double- double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. These two upperclassmen showcased how dominant the Leathernecks can be with tough competition, and will hope to take this momentum on the road as their next matchup is against Bradley University.