NORMAL — Just call this Illinois State women’s basketball team “The Finishers.”
For the second time in three days, the Redbirds broke free from a tie game well into the second half to win convincingly as ISU vanquished Northern Iowa, 69-60, Saturday before a Redbird Arena crowd of 1,644.
“We referenced that in a timeout. This was exactly the way it was the other night,” ISU coach Stephanie Glance said. “What gave us the margin the other night was our defense. We knew we would have to do it again.”
The Redbirds, who also erased a late 13-point deficit to stun Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 4, won their fourth straight game while advancing to 9-3 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Lizzie Boeck 3-pointer pulled Northern Iowa (8-5, 1-1) into a 49-49 tie with 8:35 remaining.
But Alexis Jenkins’ fast-break layup ignited a pivotal 10-2 ISU surge that also included two Hannah Spanich free throws, a 16-footer from Amanda Clifton, Jenkins’ 12-foot jumper from the wing and an Emily Hanley inside bucket.
“Down the stretch we stay more together and we’re aggressive,” said Spanich. “I don’t think any player on our team thinks we’re going to lose. That helps us raise our level (of play).”
A Jenkins 3-pointer and Hanley’s three-point play at the 1:59 mark handed the Redbirds a comfortable 65-53 advantage.
“We lost our composure the last six minutes and that cost us. I thought we allowed their physicality to take us out of what we wanted to do,” Panthers’ coach Tanya Warren said. “We allowed it to be a track meet. They are very efficient and very effective when they can get out and run.”
With starters Katie Broadway and Kenyatta Shelton shooting poorly (a combined 6 of 23), Spanich scored an ISU career-high 18 points and added six rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
“They keyed on Emily and Yatti (Shelton) a lot, and collectively we did a great job making the extra pass,” said Spanich. “Coach told me to make myself available. I was a little more aggressive this game.”
Jenkins played a season-high 26 minutes off the bench and contributed 11 points and a career-high six rebounds.
Northern Iowa had 11 first-half turnovers to nearly reach its full-game average of 12 and finished with 19. The Panthers shot a meager 31 percent in the second half and 40 percent overall.
“Throughout the whole game, I thought our pressure was there,” said Hanley, who scored 17. “I felt like we were the aggressors. We had an attack mentality offensively and defensively. That helped us get stops and being aggressive on offense was very helpful.”
Boeck topped the Panthers with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Katelin Oney chipped in 12 points and Rachel Madrigal and Jacqui Kalin added 11 each.
The teams battled to a 32-32 halftime tie before ISU claimed a 42-34 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers from Hanley and Spanich. Northern Iowa quickly responded to forge another tie at 44-all.