The Valpo women’s basketball team got the 2022-23 campaign off to a winning start on Monday evening on the road at Central Michigan, taking the lead in a tight game for good early in the third quarter and keeping the Chippewas at bay to earn a 71-64 victory. Junior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) notched her third career double-double which featured a career-best 20 points.
How It Happened
- CMU scored on each of its first four possessions of the game to jump out to a quick 8-1 lead before Valpo came back with seven in a row, including five by Earnest, to tie the score at 8-8 halfway through the opening period.
- The Chippewas pulled out to a 15-11 edge with two minutes to play in the first period, but the Beacons closed the quarter with six in a row — including four free throws from freshman Ali Saunders (Depauw, Ind./North Harrison) to claim a 17-15 lead 10 minutes in.
- Valpo held a lead for nearly the entire second quarter, with CMU evening the score once early in the period. The Beacons’ lead reached as many as six points, the latest at 29-23 with 3:25 to play in the half, before the Chippewas scored nine of the half’s final 13 points to cut the Valpo edge to 33-32 at intermission.
- CMU pulled in front by a point as it scored on its second possession of the third quarter, but fifth-year Maya Dunson (Dayton, Ohio/Wayne [Loyola]) countered with a 3-pointer on Valpo’s next trip — a shot which proved to give Valpo the lead for good.
- The Beacons connected on each of their first three triples of the third quarter, as Saunders and sophomore Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) each hit from deep as well to force a CMU timeout with Valpo leading 44-36 with 6:28 to play in the period.
- Valpo scored just two points over the next four-plus minutes, but allowed only eight over that same stretch to keep the Chippewas from re-gaining the lead. Then sophomore Katie Beyer (McHenry, Ill./McHenry) took over, scoring seven points over a four-possession span late in the quarter to push the Beacons’ lead to 55-48 with 10 minutes to play.
- A single free throw was the only offense Valpo was able to muster over the first 4:50 of the fourth quarter, but again the Beacons battled on the defensive end to keep CMU off the board for the most part as well, as the Chippewas scored just four points over that span.
- A driving layup from senior Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [St. Bonaventure]) snapped the cold streak and pushed the Beacons’ lead back to six points halfway through the period.
- CMU cut the lead to three on back-to-back trips inside of 3:30 to play, but both times Valpo responded, first with a pair of free throws from Earnest and then with a nice finish at the rim by Beyer.
- A triple from CMU’s Sydney Harris with 1:20 to play brought the Chippewas as close as they had been since early in the third quarter, as Valpo led by just two at 64-62. Fifth-year Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill./Montini Catholic) had the answer, driving and finishing at the rim to push the lead back to four.
- A miss on CMU’s next trip was rebounded by Pitts, and Valpo closed the game out at the foul line down the stretch, going 5-of-6 at the stripe over the final 35 seconds to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- The win was Valpo’s first in a season opener since the 2017-18 season, and the Beacons’ first in a season opener against a D-I opponent since 2014-15.
- The Beacons avenged a loss from last season’s second game, in which they also led Central Michigan entering the fourth quarter before the Chippewas rallied for the win at the ARC.
- Valpo shot at a 51% clip (25-of-49) from the floor on Monday night, hitting 55% or better in each of the first three periods. The Beacons were an efficient 7-of-17 from 3-point range while CMU was just 3-of-27 from deep.
- Leading the way was Earnest, who scored a career-best 20 points and tied her career high with 10 rebounds for the third double-double of her career. Not only did she make a career-best eight baskets, Earnest shot 8-of-11 from the field.
- The junior had plenty of help Monday however, as four Valpo players scored in double figures. Beyer, who entered Monday without a collegiate point in six career games, scored 11 points off the bench on 5-of-6 shooting and added five rebounds.
- Brown totaled 11 points as well, her seventh double-digit effort in the Valpo uniform, while Saunders scored 10 off the bench in her collegiate debut.
- Pitts dished out a game-high five assists, just one off her collegiate best.
- Sims appeared in her first game at Valpo on Monday night, scoring five points and registering a pair of steals while leading the Beacons with a plus-minus of +10.
- Despite surrendering 24 offensive boards to CMU, Valpo was only a -8 on the glass (44-36) overall and nearly matched the Chippewas’ paint production, 38-36.
Thoughts From Coach Evans
“Anytime you win on the road, it’s a fantastic thing — it’s hard to do. We didn't have a lot of information on what CMU would do with the overhaul on their roster. Our players did a tremendous job of adjusting on the fly with seeing what they were trying to do, plays they were running.”
“Short of the turnovers, I thought we did a nice job running our offense. When we drove it and shared the ball, I thought we got some tremendous looks.”
“Ali came in and gave us a big lift. She hadn't played a basketball game in over a year, so she was really excited for the opportunity to play. She was a great spark - she has a tremendous skill set, and I'm looking forward to watching her continue to get more comfortable and confident running the point for us.”
“Katie and Ava have sat behind other players the last couple years, and have never asked about playing time. They've just kept their head down and worked. They've both shown a great level of improvement over the last year, and even over the last month or two.”
“We've never questioned whether Leah can put the ball in the basket, and I think the other pieces are really coming around. I thought she rebounded the basketball great tonight. She was more patient, let the offense really come to her.”
Valpo (1-0) comes home to the ARC for each of its next three games, starting on Saturday afternoon at noon when the Beacons welcome Southern Miss to town. That game can be seen live on ESPN3.