The Valpo women’s basketball team opened the 2023-24 season on Sunday afternoon in Charleston, Ill., leading host Eastern Illinois by three at the half before the Panthers claimed the lead for good early in the second half and pulled away late, dealing the Beacons a 75-62 defeat.
How It Happened
- Valpo had the first big run of the game after a back-and-forth battle in the early going, putting together an 11-0 run over a span of three-plus minutes which gave the Beacons a 19-9 lead with 1:49 to play in the first quarter. Jill Harris (Navarre, Fla./Crestview [Johnson C. Smith]), Leah Earnest (Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) and Nevaeh Jackson (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) all had triples during the run, while Jackson capped it with a driving layup.
- The Beacons’ lead was 19-11 at the end of the first quarter, and when Jackson connected on a triple on Valpo’s first possession of the second quarter, the advantage reached its apex at 22-11.
- Eastern Illinois slowly crept closer, slicing points off the Beacons’ edge. The Panthers got as close as two points late in the third quarter, with Valpo eventually taking a 34-31 lead into the locker room.
- Valpo struggled from the field in the third period, hitting just 3-for-13 from the floor for the quarter. Eastern Illinois went in front on a 3-point play with 7:39 to play in the quarter and led 49-44 with 10 minutes to play.
- It took the Beacons less than a minute to erase that deficit, as on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter, Kayla Preston (Omaha, Neb./Millard North) connected on a 3-pointer and Earnest finished at the rim to tie things up 49-49 with 9:08 to play.
- The score was still tied, this time at 51-51, following a pair of Harris free throws with 7:24 remaining, but Eastern Illinois ripped off a big run at that point, scoring 10 straight over the next three-plus minutes to pull out to a 61-51 lead with 3:51 to go.
- Harris kept Valpo in the game, scoring five points over the Beacons’ next two possessions to halve the deficit, and when Olivia Sims (Toledo, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy [Oakland]) got a steal and fast-break layup with two minutes remaining, Valpo was within 64-60. But EIU converted a 3-point play on its next offensive possession to seal the game in the host’s favor.
Inside the Game
- Valpo was the second-to-last Division I women’s basketball program to open the 2023-24 season. Only Kent State — which tipped off two hours later on Sunday — waited longer to kick off the campaign.
- Sunday’s game came against an Eastern Illinois team which posted a 21-8 record last season and finished in second place in the OVC. The Panthers were already playing their third game of the season on Sunday.
- The Beacons reached double digits in 3-pointers made on Sunday, going 10-of-24 from the 3-point line.
- Earnest paced the offense with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting while pulling down a game-high nine rebounds and setting a career high with four assists.
- In her first game at Valpo, Harris delivered 12 points — just two off her career best — and three assists.
- Making her collegiate debut, Jackson connected on three triples as part of an 11-point, three-rebound afternoon.
- Jackson was one of three true freshmen playing their first collegiate game on Sunday. Twin sister Saniya Jackson (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) came off the bench to score seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, while Preston registered five points and five rebounds in 11 minutes of action.
- Olivia Brown (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids [St. Bonaventure]) hit both of her 3-point attempts and also handed out three assists without committing a turnover.
- Valpo held a 23-8 advantage in bench points over EIU, but the Panthers held a 46-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Thoughts From Head Coach Mary Evans
“I thought we improved over the last week since our scrimmage. I think the things we’ve focused on, we did better over longer periods of time. We still have a lot of growth in our transition defense, we still have a lot of growth in our transition offense.”
“I thought at times our offense lost its tempo - I thought we were a lot harder to guard in the first half, and we got stagnant in our movement in the second half.”
“We've been so competitive in practice this entire preseason. I told the players at the beginning of preseason that their job was to make it really, really hard for us as coaches to know who to play, and it has been really tough. They just continue to make it difficult on us, and they compete, and that competition is only going to make our players better.”
“I think there's a lot of great lessons to take from tonight's game, and I'm excited to get on the floor tomorrow to make some corrections. We play a very similar team on Saturday in Western Illinois, and we're going to see how much we grew over the course of another week.”
Valpo (0-1) steps on the floor at the ARC for the only time in the season’s first six games on Saturday afternoon when the Beacons host Western Illinois at 1 p.m. The game can be seen live on ESPN+.