TERRE HAUTE —
For Evansville, it’s a big momentum boost and a three-game winning streak. For Indiana State, Sunday’s 63-56 home loss to the Purple Aces is the contrary: a dumbfounding third defeat in the past four games to teams below it in the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball standings.
ISU (13-10, 8-4 MVC) falls to third place in the league with a formidable road trip — fourth-place Missouri State and conference leader Wichita State — coming up next on the schedule.
“Right now, we have to finish in the top three in the league,” point guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir said after an 11-point, five-assist effort. “Every team in the second half of the season, this is the time where you have to pull through, and I feel like we’ve been saying we have to win out. Now, it’s crucial. We’re taking losses that we didn’t expect so we just have to finish strong.”
The Sycamores wasted one of the best efforts of the season by junior forward Racheal Mahan, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds while playing a big part in holding Evansville post player Mallory Ladd scoreless.
The Sycamores’ defense still allowed plenty of points near the basket, however, as junior guard Kat Taylor poured in a career-high 30 points, and Riverton Parke graduate Sara Dickey added 18.
“We’ve managed to allow two people to beat us today and one person at Illinois State to beat us,” ISU coach Teri Moren said. “That means your defense isn’t very good; that falls on my shoulders and we’re going to have to continue to get better.”
Five minutes into the second half, Dickey still had just six points. The 5-foot-11 freshman finished 6 of 15 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3-point range, but the Parke County native attacked the bucket at key moments when the game was on the line.
The quick-handed Abdul-Qaadir guarded Dickey most of the time when ISU was in a man-to-man defense.
“The coaches talked about putting me on her to bother her a little bit. I felt like I did pretty well. They started setting those screens to get her the ball away from the basket,” Abdul-Qaadir said.
Taylor hit big shots from the outside, biding time until Dickey could get going for the Purple Aces (10-14, 5-8).
“Taylor was on tonight. … She hit a lot of shots, which was expected; when you have a player that’s not on [Dickey], you have to step up. Kudos to Taylor, that’s what she did tonight,” Abdul-Qaadir said.
ISU had built a six-point lead, 35-29, on a 6-0 run that included a determined effort by Mahan to follow her own missed shot as well as a Chelsea Small jump shot with 14 minutes, 10 seconds to go in the game.
Dickey drove for a deft finish with her left hand, then UE reserve Kenzie Gustin knocked down one of the Purple Aces’ nine 3-pointers, ensuring the Aces stayed within reach. ISU dodged a bullet when Dickey missed four straight free throws, but UE tied the game a few minutes later when Taylor scored and drew the foul call on Anna Munn.
Following another tying bucket by Taylor, Munn — who returned from a two-game absence due to a left knee injury — missed her fifth straight 3-pointer. She connected for two in the final minutes to finish 2 of 11 on 3-pointers and 2 of 12 from the field overall.
Sunday was Taylor’s day to shine from the outside as she went 5 of 7 from 3-point range. She hit a wide open 3 at the top of the key to cancel out a two-point ISU lead with 6:05 to go. A minute later, she found enough space to hit another that put UE ahead 45-42.
Munn finally connected, getting a friendly roll off the top edge of the backboard, to knot the rivalry up at 45 with 5:20 to go.
Dickey converted in transition for a 47-45 lead and then drove with her left hand to put her team up 51-48 with 3:16 to go. Munn had a 3-point attempt to tie it that wouldn’t fall.
Taylor added another drive down the left side to stretch Evansville to its largest lead, 57-51, with 1:15 left.
Mahan and Munn gave the Sycamores life with a rebound bucket and a 3-pointer respectively, cutting the UE lead to 59-56 with 36 seconds left.
ISU came up with the steal it needed in the full-court press, Mahan poking it away to Abdul-Qaadir, but Munn’s 3-pointer wouldn’t fall.
“Very disappointed. Our perimter players, we go 4 for 32 from the field,” Moren said. “Outrebound them but don’t have an answer for them defensively. An eight-point lead in the first half and a six-point lead in the second half and [we] can’t hang on to those simply because we can’t get stops. Timely possessions and not being able to come up with the stops we needed. It’s not just a post deal and a guard deal, it’s both of them working together.”
Munn did not practice all week, but the decision was made Saturday that she would be available off the bench.
“I was hoping to only use her for spot minutes today, but it didn’t turn out that way. I needed her for the 28 [minutes] that she played, but I needed her to shoot it a little bit better,” Moren said.
EVANSVILLE (63) — Robinson 0-1 0-0 0, Ladd 0-8 0-0 0, Taylor 10-13 5-5 30, Weatherford 1-3 0-0 3, Dickey 6-15 5-12 18, Friday 0-1 0-0 0, Liles 0-4 0-0 0, Ellerson 2-7 2-4 6, Gustin 2-3 0-0 6. Totals 21-55 FG, 12-21 FT, 63 TP.
INDIANA STATE (56) — Laramie 4-12 3-6 11, Grier 0-3 0-0 0, Mahan 9-14 1-3 19, Abdul-Qaadir 2-11 7-8 11, Johnson 0-4 0-0 0, Zurek 0-0 0-0 0, Small 4-9 1-1 9, Wittman 0-2 0-0 0, Munn 2-12 0-0 6, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-67 FG, 12-18 FT, UE 9-22 (Ladd 0-3, Taylor 5-7, Weatherford 1-1, Dickey 1-5, Gustin 2-3, Ellerson 0-3), ISU 2-20 (Grier 0-2, Abdul-Qaadir 0-3, Johnson 0-3, Small 0-1, Munn 2-11). Rebounds — UE 42 (Robinson 6, Ellerson 9, Ladd 6), ISU 47 (Mahan 12, Abdul-Qaadir 6, Small 4, Wittman 4, Laramie 6). Assists — UE 12 (Weatherford 3, Taylor 3, Dickey 2, Gustin 2), ISU 14 (Abdul-Qaadir 5, Johnson 3, Munn 3, Wittman 2). Turnovers — UE 15, ISU 14. Steals — UE 6 (Dickey 2), ISU 4 (Grier, Mahan, Johnson, Munn). Total fouls — UE 17, ISU 20. Fouled out —none. A — 2,788.
Next — Indiana State (13-10, 8-4 MVC) plays Friday at Missouri State. Evansville (10-14, 5-8 MVC) plays host to Southern Illinois on Sunday.