The Valpo women’s basketball team made it back-to-back wins to open the 2022-23 campaign on Saturday afternoon at the ARC, getting some clutch fourth-quarter shots to keep visiting Southern Miss at bay en route to a 72-65 victory.
How It Happened
- The Beacons put together an early 8-0 run, including triples from fifth-year Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill./Montini Catholic) and senior Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [St. Bonaventure]). When sophomore Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) converted a driving layup with 4:01 to play in the first quarter, Valpo led 10-4.
- Valpo held the advantage for the remainder of the opening period, but the Golden Eagles cut into the lead to make it a 14-12 game at the end of 10 minutes.
- Most of the second quarter was played with the lead either way not exceeding a single possession. Late in the period, Southern Miss strung together six points in a row to pull out to a 27-22 edge, but freshman Ali Saunders (Depauw, Ind./North Harrison) scored the final four points of the first half to bring Valpo within one at intermission.
- The teams battled for control throughout the third quarter, a stanza which eventually featured nine lead changes. The largest lead for either team in the period was four points.
- Valpo trailed the Golden Eagles 37-33 with 5:33 to play in the third quarter before redshirt freshman Ella Van Weelden (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Marion) connected on a 3-pointer — a shot which started a stretch of just over three minutes which saw the Beacons outscore USM, 13-5.
- Van Weelden had six points during that span, while Saunders scored five as Valpo flipped the score from a four-point deficit to a four-point lead. The Beacons ended the third quarter up 48-44.
- Another triple from Van Weelden and a 3-point play by Brown early in the fourth quarter quickly pushed the lead to its apex at nine points, 56-47 with 8:25 to play. The Golden Eagles countered with seven points in a row to make it a two-point game before Pitts canned a big 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to make it 59-54 with 5:52 to play.
- Southern Miss cut the edge back to one possession on its next trip, but Valpo answered with another shot from downtown — this one from Brown to bump the lead back to six points.
- Three straight empty possessions for the Beacons allowed the Golden Eagles to move back to within one point with three minutes remaining, 62-61. Yet again, though, it was a clutch triple by a Valpo player, as fifth-year Maya Dunson (Dayton, Ohio/Wayne [Loyola]) canned a shot from the top of the key to push the advantage out to four points.
- Junior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) followed the next time down with a solo drive to the rim inside of two minutes to play, a basket which proved vital when Southern Miss hit from deep on its next possession to move to within 67-64 with 1:43 to go.
- Valpo held the Golden Eagles without a field goal the rest of the way, however, as USM scored just one free throw after that point and the Beacosn went 5-of-6 from the foul line down the stretch to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- Valpo begins the season 2-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season. This marks the first time in program history Valpo has won games against D-I opponents in each of its first two games of the season.
- Saturday’s win came over a Southern Miss program which won 18 games a season ago.
- Valpo won its home opener for the third time in the last four seasons.
- The Beacons shot 45.5% from the floor in the victory and held Southern Miss to 36.9% shooting on the afternoon.
- Much like Monday’s season-opening win, Saturday’s victory was a balanced team effort on the offensive end. Four Valpo players scored in double figures, with two others scoring at least eight points.
- Leading the way in the scoring column was Brown, who delivered 15 points to pace Valpo for the fourth time in her time as a Beacon. The senior also matched her high in a Valpo uniform with six rebounds.
- After going for 20 points in Monday’s season opener, Earnest followed up with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting Saturday while again leading the team on the glass with eight rebounds.
- Saunders again delivered an offensive spark off the bench, needing just 13 minutes of action to pour in 11 points and dish out three assists.
- Saunders is the first Valpo freshman to score in double figures in back-to-back games to open a career since Dani Franklin did so in 2014-15.
- Pitts hit a career-best three triples (3-5 3PT) as part of a 10-point performance. The veteran matched her career high in scoring for the third time, but hit double figures for the first time since Dec. 16, 2018.
- After redshirting last season and not playing at CMU on Sunday or in the first half Saturday, Van Weelden came off the bench 3:13 into the third quarter and made an immediate impact on the game. The rookie hit 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 3-of-4 from the foul line for nine points and added six rebounds as well.
- Dunson added eight points and four rebounds in the winning effort, while Sims set a career high with four assists.
Valpo (2-0) goes for a 3-0 start to a season for just the second time in program history on Wednesday afternoon when it hosts Eastern Illinois in a noon matinee at the ARC. That game will be available on ESPN+.