NORMAL — Kristen Gillespie employed just two players off her Illinois State women's basketball bench Sunday.
Hannah Green and Millie Stevens made them look like brilliant choices.
Green and Stevens combined for 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Redbirds held off a late Missouri-Kansas City push to lock down a 64-53 nonconference victory before a crowd of 572.
"I'm really proud of our young women," Gillespie said. "I thought it was a really hard-fought win. We knew it wasn't going to be easy with UMKC's style of play. I think we saw almost every type of defense we could have, and I thought we handled it pretty well."
ISU evened its record at 2-2 while breaking 50 points for the first time this season.
"We were talking all week that the offense is going to come," said Gillespie, whose team did not hit a 3-pointer but shot 56.5 percent inside the arc. "I love that."
The Redbirds enjoyed a 55-41 cushion with 4:26 to play after Katrina Beck put in a press-breaking layup.
UMKC (0-4) clawed back as close as six points in the final two minutes, but freshman point guard Paige Saylor scored six straight Redbirds points on two fast break buckets and a pair of free throws.
"I'm a really competitive person. I don't like to lose," said Saylor, who scored a career-high 12 points and totaled seven steals. "Anything I can do to contribute, and tonight it was steals."
Saylor played all 40 minutes for the third time in four games.
"That's where we're at right now," Gillespie said. "Our staff feels for us to put our team in the best chance to be successful, she has to be our primary ballhandler. For a freshman to be thrown into this situation, it's unbelievable what she does."
ISU secured 16 of the game's first 19 rebounds despite 6-foot-2 Simone Goods in street clothes with a foot injury and 6-2 Megan Talbot sitting out the entire second quarter with two fouls.
Stevens scored six of her eight points in the second quarter to help the Redbirds to a 32-18 lead entering halftime. Stevens, who had one point and three rebounds over ISU's first three games, also chipped in five rebounds and three assists.
"I'm so happy for her. Millie is really trying to find her niche," Gillespie said. "We told her it's a simple formula. Just rebound the ball and make layups. That's what she did the second quarter. She gave us a huge boost."
Green had 11 first-half points and finished with 20 to go with nine rebounds. With the Kangaroos constantly scrambling to apply defensive pressure in both full and halfcourt, Green was able to find gaps to position herself for quality shots.
"That allowed us to have really good ball movement and find the open man," said Green. "We worked with each other to get easy buckets."
The Kangaroos, who played the fifth of six straight road games to open the season, shot 26 percent from the field in the opening half with nine turnovers.
"The biggest thing we're trying to figure out is how to put four quarters together," UMKC coach Jacie Hoyt said. "I was really disappointed how we came out. I thought our effort was lacking. Energy at both ends hurt us the first half."
UMKC was spared from utter first-half disaster by senior Sierra Bone, who had scored five points over two games this season.
Bone matched a career-high with 13 first-half points, tossing in 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and ended with 19 points.
"Sierra is such a warrior for us," said Hoyt. "She plays with an injured knee every single day. She gives us her whole heart and her whole soul."
Aries Washington topped all scorers with 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Kangaroos.