Illinois women’s basketball falls at Seton Hall

The Illinois women’s basketball team couldn’t recreate the magic it had when facing the Seton Hall Pirates last season. On Dec. 9, the Illini erased a 20-point deficit at home to take down the Pirates. 

Seton Hall got its revenge this year by coming up with an 82-72 win. The Illini made a few second half runs but were never able to get closer than seven or eight points. 

“We didn’t take care of the ball in the first half and just didn’t show the same heart and the same want-to as we did in the first nine games, which was disappointing,” head coach Matt Bollant said.

Junior forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith scored 38 points for the Pirates, the most Illinois has given up to an opposing player this season. 

Illinois also had two of its biggest issues exposed once again. The Illini committed 22 turnovers, after committing only nine against Southern Illinois in their first game of the current three-game road trip. 

“They put a little pressure on us on the road and we just got hurried and lacked poise,” Bollant said. 

Bollant’s squad also struggled with fouls once again. Two of their starters, Ivory Crawford and Brittany Carter, both fouled out. 

Although Illinois won the rebounding battle, something it struggled to do early in the season, it did encounter a rebounding situation it hasn’t seen much of this year. Chatrice White, who just earned her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor, finished the game with zero rebounds. White has already had three double-doubles in the team’s first 10 games, and was averaging an even eight rebounds per game heading into the Seton Hall game. 

Coming into the matchup, Seton Hall and Illinois were both well-represented in their steals and turnovers forced categories. With the Illini giving the ball away 22 times Tuesday night, they couldn’t even up the category on the other end. The Pirates only turned the ball over 11 times, not falling victim to Bollant’s go-to buzz defense. 

Even with the overload of turnovers given away by Illinois, its new-found consistency from behind the arc allowed the team to hang around in the second half. For the second game in a row, they made seven out of 18 3-point attempts. The 39 percent mark from 3-point range shows a big improvement since the beginning of the season, when Illinois struggled to make threes at all. 

Before fouling out, the Illini received another solid contribution from Crawford. She poured in 17 points and added seven rebounds. Her rebounding has been key for Bollant’s team, as they have been looking for others besides White to crash the boards. 

Foul trouble and turnovers aside, Bollant simply didn’t think the Illini brought the same mentality they had throughout the team’s first nine games of the season.

“We’ve got to have a short-term mentality,” Bollant said. “We’ll learn from it and realize we have to have a closer mentality, the first nine games we were really hungry and showed that, and tonight we weren’t.” 

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter