Valpo women’s basketball senior Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) set a career high in the scoring department with a game-high 26 points, while freshman Saniya Jackson (Fort Wayne, Ind./Beacon) became the second Beacon in the last week with an eight-steal game as Valpo concluded its extended Thanksgiving week trip with a 78-68 setback at UAB Saturday afternoon.
How It Happened
- Valpo led in the early minutes behind a 3-pointer on its first possession from Nevaeh Jackson (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) and a 3-point play by Earnest.
- The Blazers took the lead for good just under four minutes into the game and extended their edge to as many as six points late in the period. A 3-pointer by Ella Van Weelden (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Marion) and a pair of free throws from Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) helped cut the UAB advantage to 21-18 at the end of the first.
- UAB scored the first six points of the second quarter to push its lead to nine, and the Blazers’ lead reached double figures at 33-23 with 5:42 to play in the half. Valpo answered immediately with seven in a row, including a 3-point play by Jill Harris (Navarre, Fla./Crestview [Johnson C. Smith]) and layups from Earnest and Saniya Jackson which both came directly off steals by the latter.
- Valpo got as close as two points multiple times late in the second quarter, with UAB eventually taking a 40-36 lead into intermission.
- A pair of Harris free throws were the only points for the Beacons in the first seven and a half minutes of the third quarter, as the Blazers went on a 15-2 run to extend out to a 55-38 lead.
- Valpo came back with seven points in its next three possessions, as Earnest scored five and Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [St. Bonaventure]) converted a layup, to close to within 10 before UAB scored the final three points of the frame to make it 58-45 with 10 minutes to play.
- It was all Valpo to start the fourth quarter, with Saniya Jackson knocking down a 3-pointer on the Beacons’ first possession. Earnest then poured in seven points in the span of 1:50 to close out a 10-0 Valpo run to open the period and bring the Beacons back within 58-55.
- A three-minute drought allowed UAB to respond with eight points of its own, pushing its lead back into double figures with 4:12 to play. The Blazers’ edge sat at 12 points at 71-59 with 2:01 remaining in the game.
- The Beacons had one final push remaining, starting with a Saniya Jackson triple with 1:48 to play. Sims converted a driving layup on the next possession, and two trips later, Harris drilled a 3-pointer of her own to bring Valpo to within 74-68 with 31.3 seconds remaining. That was as close as the Beacons got down the stretch, however.
Inside the Game
- Earnest poured in 26 points to easily surpass her previous career best of 20 points, set in last year’s season opener at Central Michigan.
- The senior also surpassed her previous high for field goals made, tallying nine baskets, and matched her career best with three triples. She added a team-high six rebounds as well.
- Saniya Jackson set her season high early in her rookie season with 13 points off the bench on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from behind the arc.
- But Saniya Jackson’s performance on the defensive end was the most impressive, as the freshman racked up eight steals — one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter and four in the fourth quarter.
- She is the second Beacon freshman in the last week to rack up eight steals in a game, as Raeven Raye-Redmond (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood Madison) did so last Saturday against Western Illinois.
- Saniya Jackson’s eight steals are tied for second-most in a single game in program history. Prior to last Saturday, the last Valpo player with eight steals in a game was Jeanette Gray against Houston in the 2002 WNIT, while the last MVC player prior to last Saturday with an eight-steal game was UNI’s Ellie Herzberg against Indiana State on Feb. 19, 2017.
- Harris added eight points, while Brown tallied six points, three assists and tied her Valpo high with three steals.
- For the second time this season, a bushelful of Valpo steals contributed to a high turnover total for its opponent. The Beacons racked up 16 steals on Saturday, led by Saniya Jackson’s eight thefts, while the Blazers committed 23 turnovers in all — leading to 22 points off turnovers.
- UAB shot 59.6% from the field, however, to Valpo’s 39.3% clip. The Beacons did have the advantage behind the 3-point line, hitting 9-of-25 (36%) from downtown while UAB was just 4-of-14 (28.6%) from deep.
Thoughts From Head Coach Mary Evans
“Offensively, we were pretty good today three out of four quarters — the third quarter, we didn’t execute very well. Defensively, I felt like we struggled most of the game. We did a great job turning UAB over, but didn't do well taking easy layups away or contesting those layups — 16 steals, forcing 23 turnovers is the kind of defense we want to play in that aspect, but we have to clean up the mental mistakes and communication errors that lead to easy baskets. Moore is a talented player who can make tough shots, but we didn't make her earn all her points, we gave her too many easy ones.”
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness today in battling from behind numerous times. It would have been easy to pack it in with the way we started the third quarter, but the group that was in there late in that quarter really fought and continued to try to do things the right way. I felt like they really ramped up the intensity on both ends going into the fourth quarter — offensively, attacking the basket and making good decisions; defensively, flying around and causing a lot of mistakes.”
“Leah was aggressive from the tip tonight. She had some matchups offensively that we liked, and did a really good job looking to attack when she got those matchups. I felt she made some really good decisions on kick outs as well — she could have had four or five assists tonight — and thought she attacked the glass really well.
“Our team collectively really got after the offensive glass, which shows a lot of heart and effort. That’s what we’re emphasizing with this group: it starts with the heart and effort, and then you have to trust each other, trust the process, take the game plan and go out and execute. I think some of the mistakes we’re seeing are things that will be cleared up with time on the court together as we continue to mix our large group of newcomers with our returning players and continue to work on the trust and communication between the five on the floor at any given time.”
Valpo (0-4) continues the current four-game stretch away from home next Wednesday, returning to the Midwest to play at Western Michigan. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN+.