Women net NIT victory over Drake

 

 

By Wesley Deberry

A missed Illini free throw with six seconds to play in a 46-44 game should have provided the Drake Bulldogs with one last opportunity to either tie or win. But Illini forward Lacey Simpson shut the door on Drake with a crucial offensive rebound. After an intentional foul by Bulldog forward Lauren Dybing, Simpson drained both free-throws and propelled the Illini to a 48-44 victory.

Simpson’s do-it-all style is merely a continuation of the play she displayed in the Big Ten Tournament. She said “something clicked” in the Big Ten Tournament, and she has tried to carry it over into the National Invitational Tournament. Simpson filled up the box score in Monday’s game, registering three steals, two blocks, eight rebounds and a team-high 14 points.

Center Jenna Smith and forward Chelsea Gordon tied for second in scoring for the Illini with 10 points apiece.

Illini head coach Jolette Law said she was not nervous and had the “ultimate confidence” in her team despite the close nature of the game.

For most of the game, the Illini were able to keep both Drake forward Jill Martin and guard Lindsay Whorton, the main offensive threats for the Bulldogs, under control. Martin finished with 10 points and Whorton finished with nine. The Illini, however, were unable to keep Whorton from scoring five points in the final two minutes of the game.

“We knew coming in how difficult it would be to score against Illinois, they’re a very solid defensive team,” Drake head coach Amy Stephens said. “We just never really settled in offensively, so I am not surprised that it came down to the last couple of possessions of the game.”

The Illini jumped out to an early 8-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but seemed to fall asleep at the wheel. Drake went on a four-minute, 12-0 run before the Illini caught a second wind and built a 25-19 halftime lead. Shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc helped keep the Bulldogs in the game throughout the first half.

The long range shot was not there in the first half for the Illini, who shot just 11 percent from three point range in the first twenty minutes, but a lopsided performance in the paint made up for their shortcomings. They tallied 18 points in the paint in the first half to Drake’s six and blocked four Drake shot attempts from close range.

“I definitely think there was a little rust but we held it together,” Gordon said. “But overall, we made it go through the hoop when it counted.”

Monday’s victory keeps the season alive for the Illini, at least for the next couple of days. The Illini will travel to Milwaukee to face Marquette at the Al McGuire Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.