NORMAL — With securing the victory the obvious first priority, Illinois State women's basketball coach Barb Smith had little time to fit in the final item on her wish list Sunday at Redbird Arena.
But with 15 seconds remaining and a six-point Redbird lead, Smith sprung into action. Taylor Stewart replaced senior point guard Chloe Nelson, who left to a rousing ovation in her final home game as a Redbird.
"To be able to win on Chloe and Al's (Seberger) day makes it that much more special," Smith said of a 69-61 triumph over Loyola.
Nelson scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half as the Redbirds advanced to 9-17 overall and 8-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference. ISU is tied with Drake and Evansville for fourth place in the MVC standings,
"It's definitely better to do that after a win rather than a loss," Nelson said of postgame Senior Day festivities. "I've been so proud of these girls all season. It's been a blessing. I wouldn't have wanted to play anywhere else."
ISU scored seven straight points to snap a 56-56 tie on four Sue Crump free throws and a Katy Winge three-point play.
After Loyola's Troy Hambric missed a layup that would have brought the Ramblers (9-19, 5-11) within 65-63, Nelson and Crump each sank two free throws in the final 32 seconds to preserve the victory.
ISU shot a whopping 38 second-half free throws (hitting 26) by persistently feeding Crump in the lane and sending Nelson on drives to the basket.
"We said at halftime we weren't being aggressive enough inside and not attacking well enough," said Smith. "We needed to change that the second half and we did.
"When Sue came off the bench we decided we were going to go to her, and we told her we were going to her. There was no choice but to get open and to get the ball in there."
Crump topped all rebounders with 10 and scored 10 of her 18 points at the free throw line on 12 tries.
"It was pretty open in the post," Crump said. "They tried to get it to me any time they could, and I tried to finish."
ISU attempted just 15 second-half shots from the floor but connected on 10.
"They played harder than we did the second half," said Loyola coach Sheryl Swoopes. "They were putting the ball on the floor and really looking to draw some fouls and get to the free throw line."
The Redbirds coaxed in just 7 of 29 first-half shots before a Lindsay Smith 3-pointer at the 18-second mark sliced the Ramblers' margin entering halftime to 26-21.
A Crump basket in the lane gave ISU a 34-33 edge, its first lead since 13-12. The Redbirds gained separation from the second half's seventh tie with their pivotal 7-0 surge.
Winge added 11 points and Lindsay Smith eight for ISU, which earned a 44-29 rebounding advantage with the help of six from Seberger.
"We got killed on the boards," Swoopes said. "We're just not a very good rebounding team."
Hambric's 20 points led the Ramblers. Taylor Nazon chipped in 14 and Bailey Farley 13.