Valparaiso (3-14, 1-7 MVC)
Game #18 - Jan. 27, 2023 - 6 p.m.
Illinois State (13-5, 7-1 MVC)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: The Valpo women’s basketball team opens a stretch of five home games out of its next six contests on Friday evening when the Beacons welcome MVC co-leader Illinois State to the ARC. Valpo plays just one road game between now and Feb. 17.
Previously: Valpo trailed Big Ten foe Wisconsin in Madison Wednesday evening by just two at halftime, but the host Badgers pulled away in the second half as the Beacons fell by a 59-44 final. Making her return to her home state, Leah Earnest led Valpo with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Ilysse Pitts tied her career best with eight rebounds.
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Head Coach Mary Evans: Mary Evans is in her fifth year at the helm of the program in 2022-23 and owns a record of 51-82. Evans has made an impact on the program in her first four years, raising the team’s level of play to be competitive in a strong Missouri Valley Conference. Evans’ preferred style of play has been a big part of the program’s turnaround, as Valpo has led the MVC in 3-pointers made per game in each of the last three seasons and in steals per game in two of the last three years.
Series Notes: Illinois State leads the all-time series over Valpo, 10-4, including wins in both of last season’s meetings. The Redbirds won in Normal, 65-49, to open the season series and then earned an 85-80 victory at the ARC. Grace White averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over the two meetings, while Carie Weinman - after missing the road defeat - poured in 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting off the bench in the meeting in Valpo.
- Valpo was picked to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason poll, totaling 197 points, just 10 points behind Evansville.
- Valpo is in its sixth season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley was ranked 10th in conference NET last year, was ranked seventh nationally in conference NET in 2020-21 and was eighth nationally in conference RPI in 2019-20.
...looking back at last year
- Valpo finished last year with an 11-19 overall record, but was strong in MVC play, going 9-9 in conference and finishing in sixth place - both of which match the program’s best since joining the Valley.
- The Beacons registered the first win at Drake and the first win at Bradley in program history.
- Valpo swept the season series over Drake, the program’s first two wins ever against the Bulldogs.
- The Beacons also tallied four top-100 wins within Valley play.
- Grace White was named MVC Sixth Player of the Year - the program’s first major postseason award since joining the Valley. Shay Frederick was a First Team All-MVC choice, while White was an All-Defensive Team selection and Olivia Brown earned a spot on the All-Newcomer Team.
- Valpo got out to a quick start to the game, outscoring the Badgers 12-2 over the game’s first 5:02. Junior Ava Interrante had a 3-pointer during the run, while junior Leah Earnest had seven points and an offensive rebound which kept a possession alive for a layup from sophomore Katie Beyer.
- The Beacons were held scoreless for the next eight-plus minutes, a stretch which saw Wisconsin go on a 20-0 run to take a 22-12 lead.
- A pair of free throws from senior Olivia Brown with 6:41 to play in the first half snapped the Badgers’ run and started an eight-point spurt of Valpo’s own, as two free throws by sophomore Olivia Sims made it a two-point game with 3:11 to go in the period.
- The two squads traded just one bucket apiece in the final three minutes of the half, with Wisconsin holding a slim 24-22 lead at intermission.
- The Badgers scored inside on each of their first three possessions of the second half to gain separation, pulling out to an eight-point lead, and Valpo was unable to make it a one-possession game the rest of the way.
- Making her return to her home state, Earnest enjoyed a strong performance against the Badgers Wednesday. The junior scored a team-best 16 points and dominated on the glass, pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds — just one off her career high.
- Earnest was the lone Beacon to score in double figures, however, as the Badgers limited Valpo to 31.3% shooting from the field and 5-of-23 from the 3-point line while forcing 22 turnovers.
- On the flip side, the Beacons held the hosts to 35.8% shooting — the second-lowest clip of the season by a Valpo opponent. The Badgers also were just 4-of-22 from the 3-point line.
- Ilysse Pitts joined Earnest in hitting the boards hard on Wednesday evening, coming down with eight rebounds. The eight boards ties her career high, set 89 games ago against North Dakota State in Dec. 2018 during her freshman season.
- Valpo got out to a strong start, buoyed by its early defense. The Beacons forced five Drake turnovers in the opening five minutes of the game, four of which were steals by fifth-year point guard Ilysse Pitts.
- Meanwhile, on the offensive end, the Beacons had fifth-year Maya Dunson and junior Jayda Johnston hit early 3-pointers, while junior Ava Interrante had a 3-point play as Valpo led 11-7 at the first media timeout.
- Drake outscored Valpo 14-3 over the final five minutes of the first quarter to lead 21-14 at the end of one.
- Senior Olivia Brown helped keep Valpo within striking distance in the second period, scoring 11 points in that quarter alone — including three 3-pointers. The Bulldogs led 42-31 at halftime.
- Drake scored the first 11 points of the second half, and Valpo got no closer than 18 points the rest of the way. The Bulldogs were up 68-42 with 10 minutes to play.
- Drake shot 54% (27-of-50) for the game, while the Beacons were just 14-of-47 (29.8%) from the field.
- Valpo also committed 25 turnovers, allowing Drake to score 24 points off turnovers. The Beacons did force 19 Drake miscues, 12 of which were steals — highlighted by four apiece from Pitts and Interrante. Pitts set a season high with her four thefts, while Interrante broke her career high.
- Brown was the only Valpo player to score in double figures, finishing with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Through eight Valley games, the senior is averaging 13.6 points/game and hitting at a 48.9% clip from the 3-point line.
- Valpo closes out this weekend at home on Sunday afternoon against Bradley.
- The Beacons stay at the ARC for midweek action next week, welcoming UIC to town on Wednesday night.
...at the ARC
- Friday’s game is the ninth of 15 home games this season for Valpo and the fourth home MVC game.
- The Beacons are 2-6 at home so far this year and went 6-7 in home games last season.
- Illinois State enters Friday’s game tied atop the MVC standings at 7-1 in conference play and is 13-5 overall.
- The Redbirds checked in at #12 in the most recent iteration of the Mid-Major Top 25 poll.
- Illinois State has won its last six games, including each of the last four by double figures.
- Former D-II National Player of the Year Paige Robinson paces the Redbirds, averaging 18.6 ppg, while sharpshooter Mary Crompton averages 11.8 ppg and hits at a 45.6% clip from downtown.
Facing the Top of the Table
- Friday’s game against Illinois State closes out an extremely challenging stretch of Valley play for the Beacons.
- The matchup against the Redbirds is Valpo’s fourth straight against a team within a game of the top of the MVC standings.
- In fact, three of those four games (Jan. 14, Missouri State; Jan. 19, at UNI; Jan. 27, Illinois State) have come against teams tied for first place entering that Valley game day.
- A long stretch at home might be just what the doctor ordered for the Beacons.
- Starting with Friday’s game, Valpo will play five of its next six games at home, with a Feb. 4 road game at Southern Illinois the lone venture away from the ARC in the next three weeks.
- Outside of the COVID-affected season of 2020-21, Valpo has not had five home games within a six-game span in league play since joining the Valley. This is the first time since playing five consecutive home Horizon League games Jan. 21-Feb. 6, 2016.
Doubling Up Yet Again
- Junior Leah Earnest has been one of the Valley’s most effective rebounders this season, averaging 8.1 rebounds/game.
- She has posted seven double-figure rebounding performances this year - most recently a 13-board effort last time out at Wisconsin.
- Earnest now owns the top-three individual rebounding efforts in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure with 14 against EIU and 13 against both UAB and Wisconsin.
- Earnest also scored a team-best 16 points on Wednesday against the Badgers, giving her six double-doubles this season after recording just one in her first two seasons combined.
- Earnest is the first player in program history to tally three double-doubles in the first four games of a season.
- Earnest already has more double-doubles this season than Valpo has posted as a team since the 2017-18 season. She is the first Valpo player with at least six double-doubles in a single campaign since Dani Franklin tallied eight during the 2016-17 season.
Connecting From Inside
- Valpo’s ability to hit shots from inside the arc has been a strong indicator of its success so far this season.
- In the Beacons’ victories, they have hit at a combined 56.4% clip from 2-point range and have been better than 50% in all three wins.
- Meanwhile, in its losses, Valpo has hit just 48.0% from 2-point range.
Improvement on the Glass
- This year’s Valpo team has been the best in terms of rebounding margin in the tenure of head coach Mary Evans, and the Beacons have been even better within conference play.
- In their eight nonconference games, the Beacons were a -5.3 in rebounding margin and surrendered 5.9 more offensive rebounds per game than they grabbed.
- But within MVC play, Valpo has been just -2.9 in rebounding margin and has surrendered just 1.3 more offensive rebounds per game than it has tallied.
- The win over Missouri State was especially notable - Valpo enjoyed a 28-23 advantage on the glass, a +5 edge that 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 advantage in each of its last four games.
- The Lady Bears’ 23 rebounds were their lowest total since Feb. 11, 2018.
- Senior Olivia Brown has been a deadeye from beyond the 3-point line this season.
- Brown is hitting at a team-best 43.0% clip from downtown, a mark which would rank tied for sixth in program history for a single season, and is in the top-5 in the MVC in 3-pointers/game as well.
- Brown hit a career-best six 3-pointers in the Valley opener at Belmont, a springboard to an even better performance from deep in MVC play so far.
- Brown leads all MVC players within conference-only play, hitting 48.9% of her 3-point attempts.
- Brown’s 41.4% accuracy from deep in her two seasons at Valpo ranks second on the program’s career 3-point percentage chart.
- Valpo’s top four scorers are all racking up their points in efficient fashion this season.
- Two of the top four are hitting at least half their shots from the field - Leah Earnest (11.0 ppg, 51.4% FG%) and Ilysse Pitts (6.1 ppg, 50% FG%).
- The other two of the top four scorers, while below 50% overall, are both above 40% from the 3-point line - Olivia Brown (12.1 ppg, 45.5% FG%, 43.0% 3PT%) and Ali Saunders (9.6 ppg, 46.0% FG%, 41.2% 3PT%).
- Per HerHoopStats.com, all four players are averaging between 1.16 and 1.25 points per scoring attempt (defined as a field goal attempt or free throw trip).
- Valpo’s loss at UIC on Josie Filer’s 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining was its second last-second defeat this season.
- The Beacons fell in overtime to UAB on Nov. 21 when the Blazers’ Maria Roters hit a layup with 3.3 seconds to play in the extra period.
- Prior to the UAB game, Valpo had not lost a game by a single possession since another heartbreaking defeat - a 74-73 loss to #25 Missouri State on Jan. 31, 2021 on three free throws with 0.8 seconds left.
- This year is the first time Valpo has lost multiple games on a last-second shot (inside the final five seconds) since 2010-11 - that year’s squad fell 69-67 at Evansville on a layup with 1.1 seconds remaining and 70-69 at Milwaukee on a jumper in the paint with 4.9 seconds to play.
Setting Career Bests
- Ilysse Pitts’ explosive performance against Missouri State, where she more than doubled her previous career best of 11 points with a 24-point game in the win over the Lady Bears, was just the latest in a string of career-best performances on the offensive end from Valpo players this year.
- Remarkably, a pair of Valpo players have set career highs in the scoring column this season despite being scoreless at halftime of the respective games - Maya Dunson versus Indiana State (14) and Ava Interrante at Western Illinois (15).
- Also in that WIU game, junior Jayda Johnston raced past her previous high of six points just 2:05 into the second quarter on her way to a team-best 16 points.
- Nine of Valpo’s 11 players who have seen action this season have tied or set career bests for scoring - notably, three separate games have featured multiple Beacons hitting career highs.
- The season-opening win at Central Michigan featured career bests for Leah Earnest (20) and Katie Beyer (11), while Ali Saunders (32) and Olivia Sims (12) hit career highs in the overtime loss to UAB.
A New Rookie Standard
- Freshman Ali Saunders set a new mark for Valpo rookies as she scored 32 points against UAB.
- The previous freshman record is unknown, but there have now been 16 games in program history a Valpo player has scored 32 or more points, and none of the previous 15 came from a rookie.
- Saunders posted the highest-scoring game by any Valpo player since Dani Franklin dropped 33 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 3, 2016.
- Saunders was in double figures in the scoring column in each of the first four games of her collegiate career - the first Valpo freshman since Franklin in 2014-15 to do so.