NORMAL – An Indiana State switch to a zone defense had Illinois State out of sorts Sunday at Redbird Arena. A five-point fourth quarter lead had flipped to a four-point deficit.
That’s when ISU senior forward Lexi Wallen located a zone of her own.
The converted Redbird volleyball player attacked the basket like she used to the net and scored 12 of her 16 points over the final seven minutes as ISU downed Indiana State, 78-70, before a Play4Kay Game crowd of 1,184.
“I inserted Lexi to get us going. She did a great job finding seams,” ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. “Without her, we don’t win this game. She was the difference in the fourth quarter.”
TeTe Maggett topped all scorers with 26 points as the Redbirds’ third straight victory pushed ISU to 13-9 overall and 6-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“This win means a little bit more to our program,” Gillespie said of the surrounding activities that raised $20,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. “I think our players did such a great job balancing it being a really big game for us with everything shuffling in the conference standings but to be really sensitive about the greater cause.”
The victory is significant for the Redbirds in that they moved two games ahead of both Indiana State and Loyola for fifth in the MVC standings with five of their seven remaining games on the road and it prevented the Sycamores from sweeping the season series.
ISU led 58-53 after a Maggett 3-pointer with 8:45 to play before the Sycamores (10-12, 4-7) reeled off nine straight points in less than two minutes.
“We just needed to move around a little bit. We were just standing there,” said Maggett. “Even in the zone, they were pressuring us. We got it going after awhile.”
That process began with a Wallen inside bucket and Maggett’s two free throws forged a 62-62 tie. Wallen scored again before a three-point play from Daijah Smith put the Sycamores back ahead by one.
Two Wallen baskets sandwiched a Simone Goods layup as ISU surged in front 70-65.
“They are a really athletic team. We had to utilize shot fakes,” Wallen said. “You know you’re going to have people swarming you down there so just go up strong.”
Senior Viria Livingston then turned in two hustle plays to help the Redbirds stay in control.
Livingston snared an offensive rebound in heavy traffic, was fouled and converted two free throws. Shortly thereafter, Livingston dove on a loose ball and rolled it to a teammate to preserve a key ISU possession.
Indiana State still had a chance down four in the final minute when Maggett banked in a driving shot.
“One of our major keys was to make sure we kept TeTe Maggett in check,” said Sycamores coach Vicki Hall. “She got loose on us, and that really made it tough for us.”
The Redbirds trailed 16-10 late in the first quarter but carried a 36-32 edge into halftime despite Goods sitting out the final 9:15 with two fouls.
A pair of Katrina Beck steals early in the second half sparked ISU to a 43-32 cushion that stood at 55-49 through three quarters.
ISU, which shot 56.5 percent from the field to survive 20 turnovers, has reached 70 points in three consecutive games after hitting that mark just once all last season.
“We’re finally pretty healthy, and we have really defined roles and expectations,” Gillespie said. “We’re finally starting to click. Seeing success helps it click even more.”
Goods scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, and Maggett led the Redbirds to a 35-34 margin on the boards with seven rebounds.
Tamara Lee and Ashli O’Neal paced Indiana State with 15 points apiece with 13 coming from Regan Wentland.