Offense makes Illini proud in seniors’ last home game


Jenna Smith goes for the ball. Erica Magda

By Wesley Deberry

Though she is the only redhead on the team, Illini forward Stephanie Chelleen is often overshadowed by her teammates. Averaging just more than nine minutes and three points per game, the senior qualifies as more of a role player then a premier star.

In Sunday’s senior day game against the Purdue Boilermakers, Chelleen had her time in the limelight as spectators at Assembly Hall watched her compose a storybook ending to a four-year collegiate career. Late in the second half, Chelleen was dialed in from long range, scoring three-straight crucial Illini baskets on the way to a 63-55 victory. She finished with 14 points.

“They gave me the ball, so I just let it fly,” Chelleen said.

In an surprise move, Illini head coach Jolette Law started her trio of seniors on Sunday, with all three scoring for the Illini in the final home game of their careers. But the top offensive production came from the underclassmen.


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Illini finish strong at home

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Earlier in the week, Illini forward Lacey Simpson admitted her shot was “not falling the way I want it to.” In Sunday’s matchup, she found her rhythm in shooting 6-of-10 from the field for 13 points.

“Coach always tells me to play free,” Simpson said, adding that in Sunday’s game she made the decision to just play with confidence and attack, rather than thinking so much.

The Illini’s leading scorer was junior Jenna Smith, who scored 20 points and was the main force on the glass for the Illini with 10 rebounds.

Smith wasted no time before reminding the Boilermakers that she is a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. The center jump-started the Illini with a midrange jumper, and on the ensuing possession let loose from beyond three-point range.

The Illini’s early lead did not last long, as the Boilermakers went on the offensive. There were six lead changes in the first half, but in the end, the Illini headed into their locker room at the half up by the narrowest of margins, a slim 22-21 lead.

A one-point lead, however, was more desirable than the four-point halftime deficit the Illini had hanging over their heads in their earlier meeting this season with Purdue.

“I was happy because we shot the ball poorly, and we were still up,” Law said.

In Law’s eyes, as long as the Illini kept “dictating” on defense in the second half, she was confident the shots eventually would begin to fall on the offensive end.

Her instincts proved true, as the Illini’s lead grew more lopsided as the half progressed. The Boilermakers shot 32 percent from the field in the second half, while the Illini shot 62 percent.

FahKara Malone lead the Boilermakers in defeat with 17 points.

Purdue tried to quickly cut down the Illini lead by shooting three-pointers more frequently late in the game.

After attempting just three shots from beyond the arc in the first half, the Boilermakers attempted 13 three-pointers in the second. The effort was not enough, though, as only two of their 13 second-half three-point field goal attempts fell.

“Our offense wasn’t instinct at all,” Boilermaker head coach Sharon Versyp said.

“It might be two players that knew what was going on, and the other three just were not executing what we wanted,” the Purdue head coach added.

Still on a high from the victory in their regular-season finale, the Illini will travel to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on Thursday.

“We play the way that we are playing now, we are going to be the most feared team in the Big Ten Conference come the tournament,” Law said.