For the second straight game, the Valparaiso University women’s basketball team found a way to pull off a dramatic, tight victory on Sunday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center. After Eastern Illinois came from 13 down in the third quarter to take the lead, Valpo showed its resiliency in a dramatic 62-60 victory. The play of junior Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) may very well have been the biggest factor in the outcome, as she poured in 21 points on the best day of her Valpo career.
How It Happened
- Valpo (3-5) started strong as the team got out to an 8-2 edge at the 5:04 mark of the first quarter behind seven early points by Hales. By the end of the opening quarter, Eastern Illinois had cut the lead to three and had been as close as one.
- Valpo held Eastern Illinois below 30 percent shooting in the opening quarter to grab a 14-11 lead through 10 minutes. Hales and Meredith Hamlet (McBain, Mich. / McBain) combined for 12 of the 14 first-quarter points.
- The Panthers (3-3) didn’t score for the first 3:30 of the second quarter. After Eastern Illinois broke through with a basket to cut the lead to four, Hamlet knocked down a 3 to boost the margin to seven.
- The lead fluctuated between four and eight for the remainder of the half, until a triple by Hannah Schaub (Brooklyn Park, Minn. / Park Center) widened the lead to nine at 32-23 with 1:09 to go in the second. That would remain the score going into the break.
- Eastern Illinois again struggled to shoot in the second quarter, as this time Valpo held the visitors to 3-of-11 and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Valpo outscored Eastern Illinois 18-12 in the second.
- Hales continued her strong showing with a layup for the first points of the third quarter, allowing Valpo to build its first double-figure lead of the game at 34-23. Valpo’s lead reached 13 with 6:25 left in the third after another triple by Hales.
- Then, Eastern Illinois made the biggest run of the game. The Panthers closed the third on a 14-0 spurt to take a 42-41 lead and carry all the momentum with them into the fourth quarter.
- Hamlet connected on a key 3-pointer 15 seconds into the fourth to allow Valpo to regain the lead at 44-42. After a 44-44 tie, Hales scored five straight points to make it 49-44. Eastern Illinois came back to tie it again at 49, before Hamlet hit another go-ahead 3 with 4:46 left in regulation.
- After that 3, Valpo led for good, but the victory by no means came easy down the final stretch. When Eastern Illinois’ Taylor Steele buried a 3 with 1:08 to go, the Panthers pulled to within one at 59-58. However, Bryce Blood (Toledo, Ohio / Whitmer) cleaned up her own miss with a put-back basket while also drawing a foul with 31 seconds left. The old-fashioned 3-point play was crucial, expanding the edge to four.
- Eastern Illinois pulled back within two and had an opportunity to tie after a steal with 12 seconds left. However, the Valpo defense got one final stop to preserve the two-point win.
- Valpo got great balance in the fourth quarter, as four players had five points and one had six.
Inside the Game
- Hales finished with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds while dishing out two assists and making just one turnover on a memorable night for the Valpo junior.
- For Hales, the 21 points marked a career high, surpassing her 15 against Loyola on Jan. 12, 2018. The seven rebounds were a season watermark, her two assists equaled a career high and the seven made field goals upped her previous career best of five.
- Blood was a point shy of her second double-double of the season as she finished with nine points and 10 boards. She has reached double figures in rebounding twice in the last seven days, as her performance on Sunday matched her season best from Nov. 26 vs. Toledo.
- Despite feeling under the weather, Addison Stoller (Cissna Park, Ill. / Cissna Park) remained a consistent double-double threat. She finished with 10 points and eight rebounds and made several important free throws, going 6-of-9 at the stripe. She also had three steals.
- Hamlet had another big day from beyond the arc, following her five made 3s from Thursday at Chicago State with four triples on Sunday. She had a season-high five rebounds, 14 points and four assists.
- Karle Pace led Eastern Illinois with 18 points, while Grace McRae had 10 points and nine rebounds.
- Valpo has won back-to-back games for the first time since a four-game winning streak in December 2017.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mary Evans
“I wish we could figure out how to keep our double-figure leads so we don’t have to finish games like this, but our girls play hard for each other and they come together and stick with each other in the fourth quarter. We do a good job of executing down the stretch. I thought we did a quality job of that tonight, taking possessions away by being patient and using the shot clock.”
“We put the end of the third quarter behind us and looked forward to the fourth. We knew we had to go out and win the fourth quarter. That was the goal, and we found a way to do it.”
“I loved the aggressiveness of Grace tonight. They played a unique defense that leaves the offense to rely on being able to move the ball and make open shots. Grace is a tremendous 3-point shooter. She started the game a little tentative, but then she got comfortable and started taking those shots. As she started making them, you could see her confidence increase. I loved the way she shot it and I loved the way she attacked the basket tonight. I’m expecting all this great experience to help her continue to step up her game moving forward.”
“I think the experience we’re getting right now will be great for the team. They’re being put in positions to really learn and grow at the end of games and in late-game situations. A lot of these kids are getting experience with the amount of minutes they’re playing because of our injuries. They’re only going to continue to learn and grow, and then as our other kids come back, we’re going to be a more experienced and deeper team because of what’s happening now.”
Valpo will continue a stretch of three straight home games on Saturday as Miami (OH) comes to town. The game will tip off at 1 p.m. CT and will air on ESPN3 and 95.1 FM Valparaiso. Links to live coverage will be available.