The Valpo women’s basketball team earned its first Missouri Valley Conference win of the year in emphatic fashion Saturday afternoon at the ARC, taking down a Missouri State team which is one of the Valley’s perennial powers and entered the weekend tied atop the MVC standings by a 77-68 final. The victory — Valpo’s first in program history over the Lady Bears — was highlighted by a star performance from fifth-year point guard Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill./Montini Catholic), who more than doubled her previous career best with a game-high 24 points.
How It Happened
- The first quarter was tightly contested, as both teams vied for control. The Lady Bears took a six-point lead at the end of the period, 23-17, on Taylor Woodhouse’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
- Missouri State scored the first basket of the second quarter to push its lead to eight, and still led by eight halfway through the period before Valpo put together a 7-0 spurt. Senior Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [St. Bonaventure]) had five points, including an and-1, during the run, while sophomore Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) capped the stretch with a jumper with 3:25 to play in the first half to cut the deficit to 34-33.
- Missouri State pushed its lead back out to six, but a driving layup from Brown in the final minute of the half proved to be the final points of the half as Valpo went into the locker room trailing 39-35.
- Pitts scored five early points in the third quarter to help give the Beacons a 42-41 lead, the team’s first lead since the game’s opening minutes.
- Four times after Valpo took the lead in the third period, Missouri State was able to tie the score, but each time, the Beacons responded to stay in front. On the flip side, however, Valpo was unable to push its lead past five points, and the edge was just 58-56 with 10 minutes to play.
- Brown converted at the rim on Valpo’s first possession of the fourth quarter to make it a four-point lead, but the Lady Bears scored six straight points to jump back in front, 62-60 with 8:24 to play.
- The Beacons answered with the key 10-2 run over a four-minute stretch to give them control. A 3-pointer by Pitts with 7:19 remaining gave Valpo the lead for good.
- The run was capped in a highlight-reel end-to-end sequence. Pitts blocked a 3-point attempt by MSU’s Paige Rocca with the shot clock running down, secured the loose ball and broke out towards the rim. Her layup attempt was off the mark, but junior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) trailed the break perfectly, leapt and put the rebound back in one motion, all while being fouled. When Earnest completed the 3-point play at the foul line, Valpo led 70-64 with 4:02 to play.
- A free throw for the Beacons extended the lead to seven points at 71-64 with under three minutes to play before the Lady Bears converted a pair at the stripe with 2:31 to go to make it 71-66. Valpo had empty offensive possessions on its next two trips, but forced MSU misses on the defensive end to keep the Lady Bears at bay.
- Pitts took care of business at the foul line down the stretch, hitting 6-of-8 at the stripe in the final minute, and Missouri State turned the ball over to the Beacons on each of its final three possessions.
Inside the Game
- It was a strong team effort across the board to secure the program’s first win over Missouri State in 11 efforts on Saturday, but the highlight has to start with Valpo’s fifth-year point guard. Pitts, who entered Saturday with a career best of 11 points, more than doubled that to lead all players with 24 points — 18 of which came in the second half. Playing in her 95th career game at Valpo, Pitts paced the squad in scoring for the first time.
- Pitts did so in efficient fashion, needing just 10 field goal attempts as she went 7-of-10 from the floor, knocked down both of her 3-point tries and was successful on 8-of-10 from the foul line.
- Not surprisingly, Pitts also set career bests for field goals made (7) and free throws made (8). In addition, she tied for game-high honors with seven rebounds to set a season high and tied her season best with three steals.
- Valpo also got an efficient offensive performance from Earnest, who went 6-of-9 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe for 18 points to go with six rebounds. Earnest, who scored in double figures for the 11th time this year, set a career high with her six free throws made and also posted a career best with three steals.
- Rounding out a trio of Beacons who set a high water mark for output from the free throw line was Brown, who went 6-of-7 from the foul line as part of a 15-point effort — her eighth game in double figures this year. The senior also paced Valpo with four assists.
- Junior Ava Interrante (McHenry, Ill./McHenry) tied her career high with five rebounds and narrowly missed making it four Beacons in double figures as she scored nine points.
- Fifth-year Maya Dunson (Dayton, Ohio/Wayne [Loyola]) tallied a pair of steals and two blocked shots — both tying career highs — while doing yeoman’s work in 30 minutes of playing time battling the bigger MSU post players.
- Valpo set a season high in regulation by scoring 77 points despite hitting just five triples as a team. The Beacons were 19-of-33 from inside the 3-point line and got the job done at the foul line, setting a season high for free throws made as they went 24-of-29 at the stripe for an 82.8% clip — their third-highest FT percentage of the year.
- Meanwhile, while MSU hit 51% from the field and 86.7% from the foul line, Valpo forced 19 MSU turnovers — a season high by a Beacon opponent — and came up with a season-best 11 steals. The Beacons committed just 13 turnovers of their own and enjoyed a 17-11 advantage in points off turnovers.
- But the story from a team perspective has to be the rebounding, as this year’s team — which has been the best in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure on the boards — reached a zenith with its effort against the Lady Bears on Saturday.
- Valpo enjoyed a 28-23 advantage on the glass, a +5 mark which seems even more impressive when you dive into the numbers. That +5 edge came against a Missouri State team which outrebounded the Beacons by a combined 36 boards in last season’s two matchups, and which had enjoyed a double-figure rebounding margin in its advantage each of its last four games.
- The Lady Bears’ 23 rebounds were their lowest total since Feb. 11, 2018.
- Valpo surrendered just five offensive rebounds to MSU, which totaled 40 offensive rebounds in last year’s two meetings. In fact, the Beacons ended up with seven offensive boards of their own and outscored MSU in second-chance points, 13-8.
- The fourth quarter epitomized the game well. Valpo outscored MSU 19-12 over the final 10 minutes and enjoyed a 12-5 advantage on the glass. The Beacons did not give up an offensive rebound to the Lady Bears in the fourth quarter and grabbed three offensive boards of their own, which they converted into six points.
Postgame Press Conference With Mary Evans, Ilysse Pitts and Leah Earnest
Valpo (3-11, 1-5 MVC) hits the road for its next three games, starting next Thursday at UNI. The 6 p.m. tipoff from Cedar Falls can be seen live on ESPN+.