MOLINE — Top perimeter scoring threat TeTe Maggett absorbed her second foul midway through the first quarter, forcing the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year to the Illinois State bench.
In the final minute of that opening quarter, Redbird leading scorer and rebounder Simone Goods limped off the floor after turning an ankle and headed to the locker room.
What looked like disaster for ISU on Friday at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament was transformed into triumph as the Redbirds parlayed a strong second half to a 61-55 victory over Bradley before a crowd of 1,509 at the TaxSlayer Center.
"I'm just so proud of this group. The last two years this has been a team of a lot of firsts," ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. "We just added another one to the list. No one in that locker room had ever played on Saturday. That's something we're really proud of."
The fourth-seeded Redbirds, who avenged two regular-season losses to the Braves, take a 19-11 record into their first MVC Tournament semifinal since 2014. In that 1:30 p.m. Saturday game, ISU will oppose top-seeded and No. 21 nationally ranked Drake.
"This rebuilding process has been a little bit of a roller coaster," said Gillespie. "There have been some low times. But it makes it worth it when you see the joy in your players' faces of them accomplishing something we set out to do."
ISU trailed 29-23 at the half. Goods left the floor with 36 seconds left in the first quarter and returned to action 5:28 before halftime.
"It felt a little more severe based on the pain. I was a little bit worried, but once I started putting pressure on it I knew I would be able to return," Goods said. "I was worried about getting back to the game the whole time I was getting taped up. Nothing was more important than this game."
The Redbirds pulled into a 33-all tie on a Goods three-point play and seized their first lead since 10-9 at 39-36 on a Beck three-point play at the 2:16 mark of the third quarter.
"It means the world to me," said Beck, who matched Goods for team-high scoring honors with 15 points. "I don't want to go home. I'm taking it all in. I'm feeling a lot of different emotions, but it's really exciting."
ISU carried a 43-41 edge into the final period and pushed out to its biggest lead at 49-41 on baskets from Viria Livingston, Beck and Goods. The Redbird margin was sliced to 54-49 before Lexi Wallen's rebound bucket with 1:36 to play.
"We're a very young team and that showed a little bit unfortunately," Bradley coach Andrea Gorski said. "We doubted ourselves a little bit when they went on a run."
Gorski called ISU's 11 second-half offensive rebounds (after just one in the opening 20 minutes) "the difference in the game. They were able to use their physicality against us, and we struggled to score. We've got to score in the 70s when we play Illinois State."
Maggett finished with 13 points and Livingston a season-high 10. Goods grabbed eight rebounds and Lexy Koudelka seven to spark ISU to a 43-33 advantage on the boards.
ISU also was 18 of 28 at the free throw line compared to Bradley's 9 of 13.
"The last two games they had more free throws than us and more rebounds than us," Beck said. "This time we were trying to set the tone early, and I think we did that."
Freshman Lasha Petree scored 19 points off the bench to pace Bradley (20-10). Shunseree Kent added 10, but Braves' leading scorer Gabi Haack was held to eight points and 3-of-11 shooting.
"I knew our guards would be up for the challenge," said Gillespie. "We didn't think they got our best defensive shot the first two games. We did some different ball screen coverage we hadn't done all year. We knew it would be a huge key if we could keep her (Haack) at bay."
ISU lost twice to Drake, 82-64 and 88-61, during the regular season.
"They are the best team in our league, hands down," Gillespie said. "To win this thing, you have to go through Drake. I'm thrilled we get to play again."