TERRE HAUTE —
An in-state rivalry took a step up in intensity Sunday in Hulman Center as Indiana State lost for the second straight year at home to Evansville.
Last year’s margin was 55-54 on a last-second shot; this year, a back-and-forth battle finished with former Riverton Parke standout Sara Dickey making some of the game’s decisive plays.
The losses all hurt, but especially at home, and “especially when they have players that are from this area,” ISU guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir said. “There was a lot of purple in the stands, and that’s a game you want to win, especially when they come to your home court.”
Plenty of the purple in the stands came from north of Terre Haute to see the Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer play in a venue she had visited a few times as a fan growing up.
Dickey got off to a slow start with a couple of turnovers and a missed 3-pointer in the opening minutes.
She had just six points at halftime. She had 12 in the second half to reach her average of 18.
“This kid next to me, she’s just a stud,” Evansville coach Otties Epps said. “This is by far one of the worst performances she’s had. But she still had 18 points, four rebounds, a handfull of assists and steals. It just speaks to her greatness and her teammates’ ability to lift her up.”
Dickey enjoyed the opportunity to play in front of friends and fans close to her hometown.
“I really felt the love from everybody. There’s so many people here. It made me feel really good that all of them still support me,” Dickey said. “My teammates just kept encouraging me that I could make those free throws. I was 5 for 12. … I’ll work on those, we’ll get them next week.”
Dickey scored just 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting from the field when Indiana State routed the Purple Aces in Evansville on Jan. 16.
“It felt great,” she said of Sunday’s turnaround. “We got beat by them pretty good at our place. With [junior Mallory Ladd] back and having her leadership, I feel like we can make a big run,” Dickey said.
The Purple Aces have won three in a row now after Ladd missed six games — including the last game vs. ISU.
Dickey is a big reason they hope to make a late-season push.
With 440 points, Dickey is already fifth in Missouri Valley Conference history in top scoring seasons by a freshman woman. She’s on the verge of passing Missouri State’s Kari Koch next and might catch every one in front of her except Jackie Stiles.
She credits her teammates for believing in her.
“My teammates are always trying to give me the ball in scoring position,” Dickey said. “They’re always giving me confidence and letting me know I can score whenever I want.”
Epps is happy to build his program around her for the next few years.
“From the moment she stepped on campus, I told her she had greatness in her, and we were going to to do everything we can to put her in position to show her greatness,” Epps said. “It took her some time to believe that, and she’s still in that process of discovering how great she is.
“She can shoot, she can drive, mid-range, post-up, finish at the rim. I’m blessed I get to be the coach that gets to ride her coattails, so to speak.”
Epps is also happy to have a developing in-state rivalry with Indiana State. He’s now 2-4 against the Sycamores in his third season at UE.
“We love the renewed rivalry that we were able to start to establish with Indiana State,” Epps said. “I think Teri [Moren] has done an amazing job here. I think she has one of the toughest, best-executing teams in the league. I think they’re a championship-caliber team.
“We’re getting healthy now, and when we do things the right way, we can compete with anybody. This is the way it should be when Indiana State and Evansville play each other.”
MVC freshman scoring
All-time best freshman seasons
1. Jackie Stiles (Missouri State-1997-98) 618
2. Cartaesha Macklin (SIU-2011-12) 495
3. Casey Garrison (Missouri State-2008-09) 476
4. Kari Koch (Missouri State-2002-03) 456
5. Sara Dickey (Evansville-2013-14) 440