Courtesy of Western Illinois University Athletics Department:
MACOMB, Ill. – Amid a snowy Saturday, Western Illinois women’s basketball (11-3, 2-1) took over its home court once again on New Year’s Day to host a third Summit League matchup of the season. St. Thomas (5-8, 2-1) stepped in as the opponent, and Saturday witnessed plenty of ‘seesaw play’ that resulted in a double-overtime contest. WIU threw plenty of punches admirably, but the visitors ultimately hung for a 66-64 finish.
The game was Western’s first loss at home this season, and the first time the program had partaken in a double-overtime matchup since 2019-20 (Jan. 2 at North Dakota State).
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a game where we shot 20 more attempts, and free throws, than another team and still lost,” WIU head coach JD Gravina noted. “We held them to 48 points in regulation, so offensive struggles hurt us. It was a tough break, but we just have to become a bit tougher and make better decisions in the flow of a game.”
After a slow overall start, Jada Thorpe’s free throws and a Mallory McDermott three-pointer got WIU rolling a bit, up 7-2. St. Thomas responded by tying the score and taking a slight lead, 12-11, making a triple in transition. A quick take to the rim by Evan Zars would be the Leathernecks’ final points in the remaining two minutes of the first quarter, as the Tommies led 16-13.
Scoring remained minimal in the first portion of the second quarter. There were several forced misses from both sides, paced by Zars’ contested shots and defensive rebounding. Thorpe finished under the basket to give WIU a 22-19 edge before St. Thomas tied things up at the 2:20 mark. Once again, the final pair of minutes went by slowly for the Leathernecks. By halftime, the team had shot only 25% from the field in the first 20 minutes yet still trailed closely behind, 27-24.
The Tommies began the second half with a 6-0 run. Nevertheless, WIU stayed edgy early, as driving layups by Zars and Elizabeth Lutz made it 33-28. After three minutes passed by with no change in score, St. Thomas rang in a trey ball. Next, Lutz immediately took over, handing out a handful of focused straight-line finishes to end the period with Western on top, 37-36.
Western continued to protect the interior as the fourth quarter became close on the scoreboard, leading to a 42-42 display. Lutz continued her aggression with the ball and made two free throws to put her squad up 46-45 with a minute to go. After St. Thomas missed an attack in the paint, a timeout was called, and Danni Nichols spun her way into the lane to increase WIU’s advantage to three. During the Tommies’ final chance in regulation, WIU showed pestering defense but suffered a banked-in outside shot that sent the game to overtime.
Lutz and Nichols scored first for WIU in the first extra period, as St. Thomas tied the margin again (52-52). Thorpe delivered a much-needed three from the left wing, but the Tommies had enough time to score a free throw and driving finish before the horn sounded with another tied score (55-55).
Down 61-57 in the second overtime, Anna Deets splashed in a jumper from outside the arc for Western. St. Thomas subsequently answered with a pull-up shot near the lane before Nichols and Lutz again made big plays on hanging finishes. A drive and free throw from the opposing group had the Tommies in front, 66-64, and WIU could not complete a final lob attempt on an inbounds possession.
Lutz notched a season-high in points (17) and steals (four) while adding four rebounds. Nichols posted 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Zars tied her season-best in rebounds (14) with seven points. Thorpe chipped in 12 points, five rebounds, and two steals. Samantha Pryor pulled down seven boards.
The 47 minutes played by Nichols and Zars apiece were the most of any Leatherneck this season. Additionally, Lutz played 43 minutes – the first time this winter that Western has seen three players play 40 or more minutes in a single game.
“We always have a confidence that we are capable of coming back in any deficit, but I think tonight we relied on that confidence too much,” admitted Lutz. “This was a learning experience that games won’t ever be handed to us, so we need to be more assertive in taking our opportunities instead of hoping that they will fall our way.
“In a way, it is good to have this ‘wake up’ here because we hate losing in general, but especially at home.”
Western takes its first road trip within league play next, visiting Kansas City (Jan. 6) and Oral Roberts (Jan. 8) in the incoming week.