News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

January 4, 2014

Indiana State women jump to early lead, hold off UNI for opening MVC win

TERRE HAUTE — Missouri Valley Conference television spotlighted the league favorite women’s college basketball team Friday night in Hulman Center, and for the better part of a half host Indiana State delivered on that promise.

Visiting Northern Iowa made it a dicier proposition the rest of the way, climbing with three points once in the second half, but the Sycamores never buckled and held on for a 60-53 decision.

“Anytime you’re 1-0 in the Valley is a good day,” coach Teri Moren said afterward, but added later, “This isn’t the way [the Sycamores] wanted to win the game.”

Despite missing three wide-open layups in the first two minutes, the Sycamores probably hurt the MVC TV ratings by bolting out to a 13-0 lead and getting it to its widest point at 20-4 with 11:19 left in the first half. It was still a 15-point game at 29-14 with 3:21 to go before intermission, but the Panthers had already started to gain some traction.

“We came out of the gate really strong,” point guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir said after the game. “Racheal [Mahan] was doing a great job on the boards, we got stops … UNI is a great team, but we have to keep double-digit leads. It’s time to buckle down and fix that, and it needs to be next game [2:05 p.m. Sunday at home against Drake].”

“We’ve seen it,” Moren said of both the good and bad parts of her team’s game. “We know this group has a lot of potential. What we’re looking to improve on is consistency.”

Northern Iowa finished the first half on a 7-3 run to cut the lead to 11 points at 32-21, fueled by bursts from 5-foot-5 [if that] junior college transfer Ty Smith, and crept within nine on three different occasions early in the second period.

Stephanie Wittman scored twice on drives to the basket in a 6-2 run that had the Sycamores back on top by 13, but the Panthers responded with eight points in a row to get within 45-40.

Abdul-Qaadir stopped the bleeding with a drive through traffic, then assisted on a turnaround jumper by Anna Munn to restore a nine-point margin.

It was still nine at 51-42 when the Panthers charged to within 52-49, but Abdul-Qaadir stole the ball to start a fast break and finished it with a rebound basket for a 54-49 score. At 54-50 it was Wittman, driving to the basket again but slipping the ball to Mahan for a layup and a six-point lead, and Abdul-Qaadir finished off the game at the foul line.

“My coaches told me to be aggressive, to get to the basket and to get to the free throw line,” said Wittman afterward, “and my teammates were there [to finish] when I didn’t have anything.”

“She can do that all day if she wants,” Abdul-Qaadir said.

“We got help from a lot of different people,” Moren said. “Racheal was great, Bilqis was terrific, Anna Munn’s hustle points made a lot of different things happen … and we got to see the potential Stephanie Wittman has.”

Abdul-Qaadir was easily the player of the game, however. Not only for her numbers — a game-high 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals — but when she got them.

“She’s been in school five years,” Moren said of the graduate student who formerly played for Memphis, “so we expect her to have leadership qualities and to understand what we want.”

“I didn’t think I was going to have nine rebounds,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “Coach Joey [Wells] has been harping on me to get to the free throw line.”

Mahan added 10 points and nine rebounds for the Sycamores, who had 10 players in the scoring column. Mahan also helped frustrate the Panther post players into below-average games, with Smith the only Panther in double figures with 15.

“We started well and we finished well; it’s in-between that we’ve got to work on,” Moren said. “But if we get that killer instinct, this will be a group to reckon with.”

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