Courtesy of Western Illinois University
MACOMB, Ill. – Protect the home floor.
That was the mindset of Western Illinois women’s basketball (7-2, 0-0) heading into the annual ‘Compass Challenge.’ After staying alive in an overtime win last night (Dec. 3) versus Northern Illinois, the Leathernecks matched up against a heady Southern Illinois (2-3, 0-0) roster, pulling through in an 85-80 victory during Saturday evening (Dec. 4).
It is the first time WIU has been crowned as Compass Challenge champions.
“This tournament has been a real struggle for us the past three years,” acknowledged WIU head coach JD Gravina. “To win it in the final year of the rotation was really satisfying for our team. We beat two good, physical teams, which is something that is difficult for us. There is no doubt the home crowd is what got us over the top.”
WIU shot efficiently to start the night, but paint touches helped SIU steady a slight lead through the first quarter, up 14-12. Samantha Pryor made her shooting presence known from the jump, nailing in a couple from downtown. Mallory McDermott and Jada Thorpe converted a layup each to have Western down 21-16 at the end of the first quarter.
The Leathernecks struggled to regain their offensive touch once the second unfolded, as SIU stretched its lead to double-digits. Danni Nichols had an answer, giving the Salukis a headache to try and contain near the rim. The dangerous attacking guard posted 12 points in ten minutes, playing a prominent role in cutting the deficit to 40-37 at halftime.
Western picked up its confident offense during the third quarter, as an Evan Zars layup gave the team its first lead since the opening period’s 7:58 mark, 43-42. A series of traded blows then took over, with the two in-state foes going bit for bit on each possession. Nichols continued to be lethal on her drives, while her fellow WIU returners contributed hugely. Pryor delivered another three with 30 seconds remaining in the frame to have her squad still ahead, 61-57.
The fourth quarter involved several nerve-wracking moments, with the game still being either team’s for the taking. Nichols got to the rim to lead 70-69 before WIU went on a 6-2 spurt. Free throws and hook shots from the Salukis made it a one-possession game again, after the two-minute mark. Nichols completed two at the charity stripe, but SIU splashed in a quick triple from the top of the key immediately after, trailing only 81-80. Patience with the ball and focus at the free-throw line allowed Western to capture the win in regulation.
Nichols’ 27 points were a new career-high, leading all scorers. She also added five rebounds and two steals. Zars scored 15 points for the second straight showing while tallying nine rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Pryor tied her season-high of 15 points (five threes), and Elizabeth Lutz posted a nice line — 13 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Western heads to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville early this upcoming week (Dec. 7). The non-conference meeting is scheduled for a 7 p.m. CT start time.