NORMAL — Katrina Beck made the Illinois State women's basketball team feel comfortable with a key 3-pointer Friday at Redbird Arena.
Unfortunately for Coach Kristen Gillespie's heart rate, Beck had to do it twice.
Eight straight Beck points early in the fourth quarter expanded the Redbird lead to 15, but a 3-pointer from the corner with 40 seconds left kept ISU from blowing that cushion in a 57-49 Missouri Valley Conference victory over Loyola before a crowd of 719.
"I thought we did enough to win," Gillespie said. "It wasn't pretty down the stretch, but we'll take a win any way we can get it. We're still learning how to finish games."
The Redbirds (9-12 overall, 3-7 in the MVC) surpassed last season's win total of eight and evened the score with Loyola (4-17, 2-8) for a 62-59 loss on Jan. 7 in Chicago.
"It was a very physical game, and we didn't respond with the toughness necessary to win," said Ramblers coach Kate Achter. "We can't keep using maturity as an excuse. At some point, it's got to kick in. We've got to figure out if we've got fight in us or not."
Beck, who entered the final quarter 1 of 5 from the field for two points, nailed two 3-pointers in the first 1:28 of the fourth quarter after first looking to Simone Goods in the post.
"If they are going to sag that much, I've got to make them respect me," said Beck. "I have to make them play me in order to make that pass. Once she jumped all the way back, I was wide open and took the shot."
Beck followed with a steal and layup that boosted the Redbird margin to 46-31.
Loyola, however, suddenly located its stroke from beyond the arc. The Ramblers connected on 4 of 5 3-point tries to open the final quarter. Jessica Cerda's trey at the 1:12 mark sliced the ISU lead to 51-49.
With the shot clock closing in on zero, the Redbirds then found Beck in the corner for a huge 3-pointer with a Loyola defender flying toward her at the 40-second mark.
"When Paige (Saylor) was coming off a ball screen, I saw we only had a few seconds," Beck said. "I knew I had to shoot it. I didn't have time to drive. I just set my feet and caught it ready to shoot."
"If she's not ready to shoot and tries to drive, it's a totally different game," said Gillespie. "I was so proud of her. She caught it and there wasn't even a second thought."
Viria Livingston sank one free throw and Saylor a pair in the closing seconds as Loyola failed to score in the final minute.
"We're not in the business of moral victories," Achter said. "So even though we won the second half, I was not very happy with our effort at all. Our first half killed us."
The Redbirds broke from a 13-all tie after one quarter for a 30-19 halftime advantage. Millie Stevens scored five key points in the second quarter after starter Megan Talbot went to the bench with two fouls.
ISU still led by 10 after three quarters despite hitting just 3 of 12 shots and committing seven turnovers over that 10-minute span. The Redbirds held their own behind a strong rebounding effort that produced a final margin of 40-30 on the boards.
Beck scored 13 of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. Talbot, Goods, Saylor and Hannah Green had eight points apiece.
A 5-foot-5 point guard, Saylor secured a career-high eight rebounds and handed out six assists. Goods grabbed seven rebounds, Talbot had four blocks and Beck four steals.
Abby O'Connor finished with 12 points and six steals for Loyola. Kailyn Strawbridge added 11 points.
ISU shot 39 percent from the field to 32 percent for the Ramblers and had 17 turnovers, four more than the visitors.