NORMAL — Shala Jackson’s driving basket handed Illinois State a two-point edge for the 21st lead change of a highly competitive Missouri Valley Conference opener against Bradley.
With 10:47 remaining, there was little reason to think it would be the last.
But the tug of war’s hotly contested give and take fell victim to a defense-fueled 12-1 ISU surge, and the Redbirds rolled on to an 83-69 victory Thursday before a Redbird Arena crowd of 1,879.
“When it keeps going back and forth, somebody has got to start getting defensive stops,” said ISU junior guard Katie Broadway. “That was the only way we were going to get a lead. We dug in as much as we could on defense to get those stops and get the momentum going our way.”
The Redbirds, who had not led by more than three to that point, forced four Bradley turnovers in the decisive stretch while improving to 8-3 overall.
“We started to feel the spark coming,” ISU senior forward Emily Hanley said. “We finally starting hitting shots and getting stops and things started clicking.”
The Redbirds led 60-56 after Alexis Jenkins nailed a 16-footer. Jenkins then turned a steal into a fast-break bucket and three-point play by Hanley. Broadway’s baseline jumper extended the ISU margin to 67-56.
“We picked up our pressure on the ball and rotated a lot better. That spurred our offense,” said ISU coach Stephanie Glance. “That’s what we need to look like defensively.”
A Jenkins 3-pointer from the corner gave the Redbirds a 72-60 lead at the 5:19 mark. The Braves would not get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“I like the energy level and effort we played with,” Bradley coach Paula Buscher said. “But we hit two little stretches where we just turned the ball over too many times and let them come down and get easy buckets. Those 20 (ISU) points off our turnovers are basically the game.”
The Braves (7-5) shot 55 percent in the opening half and just 30 percent after the break. Bradley nailed four of its first six shots from 3-point range then misfired on its final 11 from beyond the arc.
“We tried to make people uncomfortable,” said Hanley, who matched Broadway with a team-high 15 points. “We wanted to play them tighter and make them go where we want them to go and not let them decide and make us defend that.”
Hannah Spanich chipped in 12 points and Amanda Clifton 11 for the Redbirds, who offset a 40-30 rebounding deficit with 25 of 29 (86 percent) free throw shooting.
Raisa Taylor paced Bradley with 20 points but had seven of the Braves’ 22 turnovers.