Freshman guard Rishonda Napier
Feb. 14, 2013
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE, Ill.— Southern Illinois guard Rishonda Napier’s desperation 3-point attempt as time expired missed the mark, and Illinois State survived the Saluki women’s basketball team 71-68 Thursday night at SIU Arena.
SIU forced a Redbird turnover on the prior possession, giving itself a shot at a Valentine’s Day miracle with 1.8 seconds left on the clock. Saluki forward Jameeka Bouie found Napier wide open at mid-court, but an ISU defender closed in late and affected Napier’s shot just enough.
“It executed perfectly. I couldn’t believe how open she was,” SIU interim head coach Adrianne Harlow said of the final play. “You couldn’t ask for more than that.”
The final result was a bittersweet ending to an otherwise inspired performance by SIU (4-18, 1-10 MVC). Playing against an ISU squad (16-8, 8-4 MVC) that walloped them by 48 points a month earlier, the Salukis put forth a significantly improved effort that came just a few bad bounces short of winning.
“We had our chances to win it with free throws missed, and layups and some loose balls,” Harlow said. “But I can’t fault their effort. They did everything I asked them to do.”
ISU led throughout a majority of the night, save a few stretches early in the first half. A big difference from Southern’s January 19 loss in Normal, though, was the Salukis' resilience whenever the Redibirds made a run.
ISU made an 8-1 run midway through the first half to turn a 12-11 Saluki lead into a six-point Redbird advantage. Southern battled back, however, cutting the lead to 23-22 at the 3:51 mark, despite playing without its leading scorer Cartaesha Macklin and its top rebounder Dyana Pierre, who were both on the bench with two fouls.
“We had some people that needed to step up, and they did. When they got their time, they did something,” Harlow said. “I think that was key in the first half when we had some really bad foul trouble.”
ISU controlled the remainder of the half to go into the break up 36-27, and pushed the margin to 10 points within the first minute of the second half. Again, the Salukis stormed back to cut the led to 43-40 with 15:27 left.
The Redbirds took their biggest lead of the night at 59-48 with 5:55 remaining after Candace Sykes converted three free throws. SIU responded by whittling its way back within 68-64 with 32 seconds to play.
ISU went 3-for-4 from the free throw line in the waning seconds, but Macklin went coast-to-coast for transition layups on the heels of both Redbird free throw trips, keeping SIU within one possession on ISU's final possession. The Salukis came up with the big turnover following Macklin’s last bucket, but couldn’t get the buzzer beater to fall.
Macklin finished with 13 points to lead SIU while Napier added 11 and Pierre chipped in 11 points and 11 rebounds. All 10 Salukis players that entered the game scored. Brianna Puni led ISU with 17 points while Jamie Russell had 14 points and Alexis Jenkins added 13.
The Salukis are back in action Saturday, hosting Indiana State.