Following a brief two-game losing streak, the Illinois State women’s basketball team (4-11, 3-2 MVC) has now won two-in-a-row after they trotted to victory Friday night over MVC rival Evansville (7-10, 2-4 MVC). The Redbirds shot a season-high 54 percent from the field, with six players scoring in double digits. The 78-54 victory was the first time six ’Birds recorded double-digit scoring performances in a single game since Dec. 6, 2008 against Eastern Michigan.
“[Evansville is] a very streaky team,” ISU head coach Barb Smith said. “They run a lot of different sets with a lot of motion. We have to be communicating really well. It’s a good defensive test for us.”
Chloe Nelson led the way for the Redbirds with 13 points, while Mackenzie Freeman added a career-best 12 points, all of which came from beyond the three-point arch. Zenobia Bess, Octavia Crump, Stekara Hall, and Kalyn Gebhardt each tallied 10 additional points in the win. Bess and Gebhardt set and tied a career-high, respectively, with their 10-point night. Hall led both teams with eight rebounds, setting her own career-high, as Nelson pulled down seven and Taylor Stewart grabbed a career-high six. All nine Redbirds who played Friday grabbed a board.
The team managed a combined 40 rebounds, besting Evansville by one. ISU also had a season-high 18 assists as the Purple Aces struggled to put points on the board. They shot just 25 percent while the ’Birds scored 40 points in the paint.
Six of ISU’s first nine points came from Hall, as the two teams battled back and forth. The ’Birds then dashed on a 9-0 run, keeping Evansville scoreless for the better part of three minutes. Four players scored during the run, and ISU grabbed a 16-10 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
Evansville then bounced back, answering with an 8-3 run. ISU responded, keeping Evansville scoreless again as they went on a 7-0 run including four free throws. ISU managed a 26-18 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. The Purple Aces were scoreless on four straight possession before ISU jumped ahead again to a 29-20 lead that ended on a 6-0 run that would leave Evansville scoreless once again; this boosted the ’Birds’ lead to 12, 35-23.
At halftime, Hall was leading Illinois State with eight points, sinking 75 percent of her shots in the paint. Freeman added six, while Nelson had five. Nelson led the Redbirds with six boards, while Hall had four. ISU shot 44 percent from the field, while UE sank just 26 percent of its shots. Evansville had an advantage in rebounds at the half, pulling down 23 compared to ISU’s 20.
Crump then led the charge in another run leaving Evansville scoreless, 5-0, putting the ’Birds up by 17 points, 40-23. Freeman sank a three with just over 15 minutes remaining, to boost their lead to 20. The final six points of the game for the Purple Aces were free throws; the final eight points for ISU came from Bess. Using the clock to their advantage late, the Redbirds prevailed 78-54.
After playing on the road for three-straight, the Illinois State women’s basketball team will return home on Saturday to Doug Collins court to take on Wichita State. The Pack the Arena game starts at 4:05 p.m.