TERRE HAUTE —
In a battle of two young women’s basketball teams, Indiana State’s senior point guard Taylor Whitley rose to the occasion, scoring a season-high 18 points and swiping seven of the Sycamores’ 19 steals Tuesday in Hulman Center.
Indiana State’s team defense — primarily a 3-2 zone led by ISU’s active guards and Racheal Mahan finishing with many of the rebounds — helped the Sycamores erase a 36-29 deficit early in the second half. ISU’s steal total was good for the second best in school history.
After falling behind seven, ISU went on a 16-2 run to take a 45-38 lead on its way to a 58-52 victory against Northern Illinois.
Mahan finished with her third double-double of the season. Coming off a career-high scoring performance in ISU’s win at Saint Louis, Mahan had a career-high rebounding night, dominating the glass with 17 rebounds to go with her two blocks and three steals.
“She’s a beast,” Northern Illinois coach Kathi Bennett said. “Once she learns use her left and counter move, she’s going to be something else. But she just is a very physical player, and plays with great will and great tenacity.”
As big as Mahan played, ISU coach Teri Moren was thrilled to see her point guard make the game’s decisive plays.
“I thought Taylor was clearly the player of the game. We thought our best offense tonight was putting the ball in Taylor’s hands and letting her work off the high ball screen or the wing ball screen,” Moren said.
Whitley found Anna Munn for her only 3-pointer of the night, with Munn reading the defense off a flare cut. ISU was energized off that play that pulled it within 38-37 with nine minutes to go.
On the next NIU possession, Whitely picked up a steal and made her second 3-point play during that 16-2 run. The Sycamores forced consecutive turnovers — Northern Illinois finished with 26 in the game — and then Whitley attacked the basket to get to the line for two more free throws. Then she found freshman Kasey Johnson for a layup that gave the Sycamores needed separation.
“In the gameplan, they said I could really utilize going off ball screen. That definitely worked to all of our advantages,” said Whitley, who credited ISU’s defensive intensity for the win. “In the second half, we stepped up at the defensive end. We definitely have to keep fighting.”
Munn, who finished with 15 points after knocking down 10 of 10 at the foul line, finished in double figures for the seven time this season, becoming the first Sycamore to do so since Melanie Boeglin did in the first 16 games of 2005-06.
Munn was impressed by the Sycamores’ continued play at the defensive end.
“That’s just our bread-and-butter really, our defense,” Munn said. “We really feed off that end of the court. We’ve just got to continue that the rest of the year and we’ll be good.”
ISU was pretty steady at the defensive end in the first half as well, making a 9-0 run to take a 13-9 lead after a sluggish start.
Sophomore guard Natasha Zurek played big minutes for the Sycamores in the opening 20 minutes, making four steals and blocking a shot that led to an ISU bucket at the other end.
Zurek had a pair of steals during the 9-0 ISU run that catapulted her team ahead 13-9 with 11:40 to go before halftime.
“I love playing with Tosh, she’s just a hard-nosed player,” Whitley said. “She’ll get in you defensively. She definitely did that in this game. Our coaches preach getting deflections defensively, and she definitely did that today.”
Moren hopes the Sycamores continue to build off the wins. ISU plays host to Illinois-Chicago on Friday.
“You win a game like tonight that helps your confidence. We’re a pretty confident group right now,” Moren said.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (52) — Thorp 0-1 4-4 4, Buggs 2-7 0-0 4, Hoelmenn 1-3 1-2 3, Taylor 3-6 0-0 8, Corrall 6-11 4-4 19, Sneed 21-4 0-0 4, Lindstrom 1-2 0-0 2, Pulliam 3-5 0-0 6, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Wittman 0-1 0-0 0, Augusta 0-0 2-2 2, Haywood 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-41 FG, 11-12 FT, 52 TP.
INDIANA STATE (58) — Mahan 6-14 0-4 12, Valley 1-5 0-0 2, Johnson 1-2 0-2 2, Whitley 6-11 6-8 18, Munn 2-13 10-10 15, Zurek 3-5 0-0 6, Laramie 1-2 1-2 3, Franklin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-52 FG, 17-26 FT, 58 TP.
Halftime score — ISU 23, NIU 22. 3-point shooting — NIU 5-12 (Corral 3-6, Taylor 2-3, Thorp 0-1, Buggs 0-1, Lindstrom 0-1). ISU 1-8 (Munn 1-7, Valley 0-1). Rebounds — NIU 30 (Thorp 6, Buggs 6), ISU 30 (Mahan 17, Valley 4, Whitley 3). Assists — NIU 11 (Buggs 3, Corral 3), ISU 7 (Whitley 3, Valley 2). Turnovers — NIU 26, ISU 18. Blocks — NIU 2 (Buggs, Hoelmenn), ISU 3 (Mahan 2, Zurek).
Next — Indiana State (5-2) plays host to Illinois-Chicago on Friday. Northern Illinois (3-4) plays Dec. 15 at DePaul.