Leathernecks fall after late push by Illinois State Redbirds

Alex Staab, Courier Staff

 

NORMAL, Ill. — Western Illinois (4-5) (0-0) got off to a hot start, but the host Illinois State Redbirds (6-1) found their rhythm and kept it en route to a 78-65 victory over the Leathernecks at Normal’s Redbird Arena.

The Leathernecks got off to about as good of a start as you could’ve asked for, hitting a total of five threes. Both Olivia Kaufmann and Sam Pryor hit back-to-back threes on consecutive possessions. Western Illinois also did a good job creating opportunities at the free throw line, something that, especially when asked about Annabel Graettinger’s efforts, Head Coach JD Gravina was really pleased with.

“Yeah, I thought Annabel did a pretty good job. I thought they guarded Olivia pretty well on her drives. Annabel’s really good in transition. I think she’s pretty hard to guard” Gravina said.

Adding to that, Gravina said he may try and fit Graettinger into the game plan even moreso in transition.

On the other sideline, it was the Redbirds’ Lexi Wallen who got off to a great start, scoring all of Illinois States’ points up until the 1:00 mark of the opening quarter.

By quarter’s end, Western Illinois had a favorable 25-14 lead.

Then the second quarter tipped off. The Leathernecks seemed like a totally different team, not able to find their shot, and fouls began to come into the picture as well. That gave Illinois State the opportunity to capitalize, and they did.

TeTe Maggett, who ended up with a career high 33 points once the game was finished, got going with seven of those 33 in the quarter.

Western Illinois did manage a three from Kyra Washington off the bench, to go with makes from Graettinger and Pryor, but those were the only field goals made. That equates out to an eight point quarter, something the Leathernecks haven’t seen since the loss to Bradley at Western Hall on Nov. 20.

Gravina feels that his team may have gotten a little too complacent with the results of the quarter.

“Getting off to that hot start, I thought we played with really good pace, which was our goal offensively. We almost settled in a little bit,” Gravina said.

That does appear to be the case, as Western Illinois went from a 11-point lead after 10 minutes to a one point deficit at the break.

The second half provided an opportunity to turn things around, and the Leathernecks did all they could to make that happen.

Evan Zars tried to crack into the scoring column a bit more, scoring six of her nine points on the night in the third. Zars would also end with 12 rebounds and four blocks by the night’s end.

Graettinger continued her tenacious drive by creating a total of five free throw opportunities, going a perfect 5-5 in that quarter.

Yet, it was too much Maggett once again. Maggett continued her hot streak, and you could perhaps say she ramped it up, scoring eight in the quarter.

Illinois State also got another quality quarter out of Lexi Wallen, who scored seven in the quarter.

With just a quarter to play, it wasn’t over just yet. Western Illinois was behind by a very slim margin, 53-50 to be exact.

The Leathernecks kept pace offensively, but Maggett shut the door in the fourth. The Redbird senior scored an impressive 16 of her 33 in the final 10 minutes. Maggett’s 6-6 from the free throw line in the final period would be part of the Redbirds’ 16-18 at the stripe, a total of 88.9 percent.

Western Illinois fought hard in this one, quite literally, as it was a fairly physical game, but the host Redbirds would come out on top, once again by the aforementioned 78-65 final score.

The game did bring a positive note, as junior guard Avery Hamm would make a return to the Bloomington-Normal area. Hamm is a graduate of Normal U-High, which according to Google Maps, is officially less than a mile (0.9) from Redbird Arena. Coach Gravina said it was great for Hamm to have that experience of a “Homecoming.”

“It was just cool for her to get back here and, even last night, to see her family, and to see a big crowd. Avery’s just a kid that’s been working really, really hard. She’s a very selfless player.”

Western Illinois has a couple of days off from games before returning to action Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m. against the Cougars of Chicago State.