Facing a road test against a Murray State team which entered the day with the best overall record in the Valley at 8-2, the Valpo women’s basketball team acquitted itself well, sticking with the Racers through three quarters before the hosts pulled away in the fourth period for a 67-48 victory.
How It Happened
- Fifth-year Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill./Montini Catholic) put the Beacons on top with an early 3-pointer before Murray State scored seven in a row to take the lead, what turned out to be for good. Despite not ever regaining the edge, Valpo continued to keep the pressure on the Racers.
- Murray State pulled out to a 15-6 lead with just over three minutes to play in the opening period, but senior Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [Saint Bonaventure]) converted a layup and freshman Ali Saunders (Depauw, Ind./North Harrison) hit a triple on Valpo’s next trip to cut five points off the deficit. The Racers eventually led 17-11 at the end of the first.
- Junior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) and sophomore Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) scored on Valpo’s first two possessions of the second quarter to make it a 17-15 game — the first of four times in the second period the Beacons made it a one-trip game. All four times, however, Murray State was able to push its lead back to multiple possessions before Valpo could level the score.
- Junior Ava Interrante (McHenry, Ill./McHenry) connected on a 3-pointer in the final minute of the half to bring the Beacons within 32-28 at halftime.
- Earnest hit from in close on Valpo’s first possession of the second half to make it a two-point game, but Murray State came back with eight in a row as the Beacons went scoreless for nearly four minutes as the deficit grew to 40-30.
- Valpo refused to go away, though, going on an 11-2 run to get back to within one. Brown had five points and Earnest four during the stretch, and when Saunders connected on two free throws with 1:51 to play in the period, the Beacons had clawed nearly all the way back, closing to 42-41.
- After the teams traded baskets, Murray State hit the final bucket of the quarter to make it a 46-43 game with 10 minutes to play.
- That proved to be Valpo’s last push, however, as the Beacons went without a field goal over the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter and the Racers pulled away for the final score.
Inside the Game
- Sunday’s game was Valpo’s second consecutive road game against a top-100 NET team to open up the MVC schedule.
- While the Racers shot at a 50% clip for the game, the second-best mark by a Valpo opponent this season, the Beacons forced a total of 16 MSU turnovers, 9 of which were steals — both just one off the respective season bests.
- Valpo was limited to 34.6% shooting for the game, but was at 42.1% through three quarters to be within three points with 10 minutes to play.
- A relatively clean game, Valpo attempted just nine free throws — a season low — and sent MSU to the stripe just 10 times — the lowest for a Valpo opponent this season.
- Brown paced the Beacons for a second straight game, knocking down three 3-pointes on her way to 15 points. The senior is averaging 15.5 points/game over her last four outings after averaging just 5.3 points/game in the previous three games.
- Brown was the lone Valpo player in double figures on Sunday, as Earnest was next-best with eight points. The junior grabbed 10 rebounds as well, her fifth double-digit effort on the glass this season.
- Sims came off the bench to add seven points, while Interrante hit a pair of triples for six points and pulled down a career-best five rebounds.
Thoughts From Coach Evans
“I thought we handled our extended break pretty well. The players got back after Christmas and scrimmaged, and I was pleasantly surprised with our conditioning level — I thought it was good considering the break. Against Belmont, we came out and didn't show a ton of rust. We executed pretty well in the first half of that game, but lost our way a bit in the second half. We followed up today with three well-executed quarters on both ends of the floor against Murray State, especially on the defensive side. We lost our discipline to our game plan in the fourth quarter, allowing easier buckets for them, and then our shots just weren't falling.”
“This is one of our longer trips, and it’s nice to have it in the break period where we’re not missing school and dealing with classes. It’s definitely a challenging trip with really talented teams — Belmont was almost a Sweet Sixteen team last year, and Murray State is a very talented team which is well-coached and well-disciplined. Every game in the Valley is going to be a challenge for our young team, and we have to take these opportunities and learn and grow. We saw a good amount of growth in our team this weekend — now we just have to continue to work through and figure out the stretches where we have breakdowns which let our opponents pull away in the game.”
“Ava is playing with a lot of confidence right now. She shows up and works every day, brings a great work ethic to practice and in her work outside practice to get better. She understands what we’re trying to do and she’s playing within herself, trusting her instincts.”
Valpo (2-8, 0-2 MVC) comes home for the first time in nearly a month as the Beacons host Evansville at the ARC on Thursday, Jan. 5. The game tips at 6 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPN+.