Illinois State shook off a slow start on the way to a dominant 65-49 over Valparaiso for their fifth straight win.
The Redbirds started off on fire, swinging the ball all over the court and knocking down shots to get out to an early 7-2 lead.
The Beacons responded strong, however, going on a run of their own to tie the game and eventually take the lead 10-9. A back-and-forth battle ensued for the remainder of the first frame, and the scoreboard read 14-13 in favor of Illinois State at the end of the quarter.
Redshirt sophomore Maya Wong and junior DeAnna Wilson scored eight and six points respectively in the first quarter on a combined 5-7 shooting, tallying all of Illinois State’s first quarter points as the rest of the team shot 0-9 in the frame.
Junior guard Olivia Brown was tied with Wong for the game’s leading scorer with eight points for Valparaiso.
Halfway through the second quarter, the two teams were putting on a defensive showcase, helping off the ball, rotating and closing out on shooters, much to the chagrin of Illinois State head coach Kristen Gillespie.
“We work on this all the time,” Gillespie said. “I think today we just played with incredible urgency. We did an outstanding job and now the trick is if we can do that Saturday.”
That strong defense led to quick offense, as the Redbirds went on a 9-0 run late in the first half to take a 10-point lead at 27-17.
Illinois State did not look back, growing the lead to 31-20 by the time the second quarter buzzer sounded. Wilson led the Redbirds with 10 points and was helped by an all-around performance from sophomore Kate Bullman who recorded five points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the first half.
Brown went scoreless in the second quarter, but still led the Beacons in scoring with eight followed by sophomore Leah Earnest with four.
Illinois State did not miss a beat, starting the second half on a 9-4 run capped off by redshirt junior Mary Crompton’s second three pointer of the game to extend the lead to 16 at 40-24.
The Redbirds continued to dominate, playing stifling defense while being patient and finding good looks on the offensive end.
A buzzer-beater three from fifth year senior Juju Redmond at the end of the third gave Illinois State a 55-32 lead heading into the final frame.
Wilson continued to lead the Redbirds with 16 points followed by 13 from Crompton. Valparaiso senior Shay Frederick scored nine points in the quarter to bring her team-leading point total to 12.
The fourth quarter featured much of the same, with the two teams trading buckets and the Redbirds holding on to a big lead until the final buzzer sounded.
“I don’t think our non-conference record is a reflection of who we are,” Gillespie said on her team's recent performances. “I knew this team had it in them, but for whatever reason it took us a little time to get it together.”
Illinois State was led by 18 points from Wilson and a dominant 15 point, 13 rebound, and six block performance from Bullman.
“I think all the outside energy and praise from my teammates has helped me gain more confidence,” Bullman said on her performance. “My teammates have always known its been there in me, I just had to find it.”
Fifth year senior Grace White led Valparaiso with 16 points followed by 15 from Frederick.
The win moved the Redbirds to 8-7 overall and 4-0 in conference play on the season.