MACOMB, Ill. – The Western Illinois University women’s basketball team took on the Indiana State University Sycamores yesterday and they pulled out their third straight win with a 83
The Leathernecks came out strong early with a 15-2 run. The Western Illinois defense came out firing on all cylinders as well as they didn’t give up a point until the 7:46 mark in the first quarter when junior guard Marie Hunter converted on a free throw. Redshirt senior guard Annable Graettinger looked back to practice as a reason for the early onslaught.
“I think that we performed well. One of the things that we have been focusing on in practice is bringing that mental intensity to every game, no matter who we’re playing,” Graettinger said.
The Sycamores began to find their footing at the end of the first quarter as they shrunk the lead to 19-15 to end the first quarter.
Indiana State currently leads the Missouri Valley Conference in steals with 31 through their first three games. Graettinger said the game was one of the most chippy games they’ve played this season and they can learn from this challenge going forward in the season.
“It was really physical,” Graettinger said. “We kind of knew going in, that they were going to play an aggressive style of defense and really try to pressure us and bother us.”
It was a back and forth battle in the second quarter but Western’s three point prowess helped them bring a 36-27 lead into halftime.
The Sycamores came out in the second half firing and they took their first lead of the game with 6:35 remaining in the quarter when junior guard LeAndra Echi converted on two free throws and gave Indiana State a 41-40 lead. Senior guard Olivia Kaufmann commended Indiana State on their fight that kept the Leathernecks on their heels all night.
“It was a super competitive game. I mean, we’d be up nine points and it felt like we were up by one point,” Kaufmann said. “No deficit was comfortable so we knew we had to get back against a team like that.”
The Leathernecks responded quickly and firmly, putting together a 21-5 run to end the third quarter, taking a 61-45 lead into the final quarter of play.
The Sycamores didn’t go down easy though. They began the fourth quarter converting on two straight three pointers and ended up hitting four in the quarter, more than they hit in the previous three quarters combined. Head coach J.D. Gravina was happy with the way his team handled the run.
“We did a good job keeping it together,” Gravina said. “Especially when they started hitting shots in the third quarter and fourth quarter. That’s tough to guard when they can attack the way they can. They can score in the post and we knew they could hit threes so we knew that was a tough battle.”
The Leathernecks were able to hold the Sycamores off and secure a 83-72 victory, their third straight of the season.
It was not all good for the Leathernecks, though. Sophomore forward Evan Zars took a beating in the post all night. Fans held their breath when Zars hit the deck after a hard foul from sophomore center Jamyra McChristine sent Zars’ head straight onto the hardwood. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when Zars was forced to leave the game with a head injury when a similar foul occurred and left the sophomore dazed. Zars has made a big impact in the first three games for the Leathernecks and her presence will be needed in their big upcoming games against teams like Purdue and Drake.
“She’s a tough kid and she gets beat up down there,” Gravina said. “When you’re playing around the basket defensively, there’s a lot of contact and then when she got fouled on the rebound on the offensive end, too. It’s a hard world down there and she is a very strong kid. I think she looks strong and she’s even stronger than she looks. I’m a little concerned about her health. I don’t think it’s anything serious but when it comes down to concussion-like symptoms, it gets scary fast. Obviously, we need her in these upcoming games, so hopefully she bounces back.”
Zars’ teammates notice the effort she puts in and are grateful for the work she puts together in the trenches.
“She has a huge impact,” Graettinger said. “And not even just statistically. She’s already had a couple huge games already but her ability to challenge shots around the rim that used to just be easy layups for other teams and she really brings an intensity and energy every game.”
Zars recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Kaufmann led the team in scoring with 25 points, followed by Graettinger with 13.
Freshman guard Jasmine Elder led the way for the Sycamores, recording 20 points. She was followed by the 6-foot-3 sophomore center, Pearl Dean, who scored 14.
The Leathernecks suit up next in a matchup against Purdue on Sunday, a game that they see much like the season opener against the University of Missouri.
“I think just coming out with that same mentality that we did against Mizzou,” Kaufmann said. “We got nothing to lose.”