NORMAL — At the 3:20 mark of the third quarter, the Missouri State women's basketball team brought four fresh players off its bench and into the game.
Illinois State used its five starters and top reserve Megan Talbot for all but two minutes of Friday's Missouri Valley Conference contest at Redbird Arena.
Still, it was the Redbirds who had that fourth quarter kick. That kick was powerful enough to shave a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to four but not sufficient to avert a 56-50 defeat.
"We get down 12 and could have thrown in the towel. It could have been a very different game," ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. "But these young women fight. Our young women get all the credit for that. I couldn't be more proud."
Missouri State (8-8, 4-1 in the MVC) held a 54-42 advantage after a Liza Fruendt layup with 3:14 to play.
The Redbirds (6-9, 0-4) stormed back with a Hannah Green 3-pointer, a Paige Saylor three-point play off a driving bucket and a Megan Talbot baseline jumper that brought ISU within 54-50 with 48 seconds showing.
"I don't know necessarily that we relaxed. They made plays," said Bears coach Kellie Harper. "We had a few empty possessions late in the game, and they were converting to minimize the margin."
After Fruendt canned two free throws, Green had two 3-point tries to slice the Missouri State edge to three but could not connect.
"It shows our grit. We're extremely gritty," Saylor said. "That definitely gives us an edge. We don't give up. That's what I love about our team."
Saylor scored a career-high 15 points and had four steals.
"Paige did an unbelievable job. Sometimes we forget she's a freshman," said Gillespie. "She plays 40 minutes, she's asked to bring the ball up and defend. She's asked to do so many things."
The Redbirds managed just six first-quarter points and trailed 18-6 early in the second period.
"We definitely gave them a lot of second-chance opportunities," ISU junior guard Viria Livingston said. "We could have handled their dribble pentration better. The second half we were a lot better."
Livingston added 10 points, while Green contributed 12. Talbot with nine rebounds and Green with eight helped ISU outrebound Missouri State, 34-30. The Redbirds' 20 turnovers were eight more than committed by the Bears.
Missouri State used nine players for at least 10 minutes.
"We don't use it as an excuse, but it does play a factor. You would be crazy not to think that," Gillespie said of her team's lack of depth. "We talk about that we can't think about fatigue. The moment you start thinking about it takes over your body."
Aubrey Buckley nearly doubled her 8.4 scoring average with 15 points to top the Bears. Fruendt chipped in 11 and Brice Calip 10.
"Buckley was unbelievable on the offensive glass," said Gillespie. "We had to help on dribble drive and didn't rotate quick enough."
Members of both coaching staffs wore dark blue ribbons in support of Missouri State assistant coach Jackie Stiles. The MVC's career scoring leader was recently diagnosed with an ocular melanoma.