MACOMB, Ill. - On a historic night for sophomore Ashley Luke, Western Illinois women's basketball rolled to a 79-58 victory over Southeast Missouri State inside Western Hall on Saturday evening (Dec. 7).
With the nonconference victory, the Leathernecks improve to 5-5 in 2013-14, while the Redhawks fall to 3-7.
Luke finished the night matching her career high with 29 points, setting a new career high with 15 rebounds, and going a perfect 17-of-17 at the free throw line as she posted her seventh double-double of the season.
The 17 free throws is not only a career high, but also ranks second in program history, just one behind Lori Haskett's record of 18 set in 1996.
Additionally, she became the record holder for highest free throw percentage in a game, shattering Kelle Lindbeck's 1983 record of 12-for-12.
“As great of a game as Ashley Luke had, I thought it was a great team defensive effort and offensive effort," head coach JD Gravina said. "The fact that we can win handily against a pretty good team shooting that [poorly] speaks volumes about how far this program has come.”
Trailing 7-6 early in the contest, Luke scored 10 straight points to push the Leathernecks ahead 16-7, acquiring a lead they never relented.
SEMO cut the margin to four points, 25-21, with 7:03 left in the first half, but a Rebecca Henricson triple sparked another 9-0 WIU run to increase the advantage to 34-21 at the 5:16 mark.
Luke finished the first half with 25 points, shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 13-of-13 from the charity stripe to go along with nine rebounds, as WIU held a 41-27 lead at the break.
In the second half, the Redhawks slowed down Luke's attack but other Leathernecks stepped up; Niemann totaled 12 second-half points, while Hall and Maher added eight apiece.
After SEMO opened the second half with a jumper, a Maher layup sparked another 9-0 Western run, pushing the lead to more than 20 points.
The Redhawks were unable to get within 15 points the rest of the way, as the strong Leatherneck defense never allowed more than four straight SEMO points the remainder of the contest.
Luke has connected on 28 consecutive free throws (17-of-17 tonight, 5-of-5 at Oklahoma, and 6-of-6 in the second half versus Saint Louis), third-most in program history, trailing only Zane Teilane (53 - 2005) and Amanda Walker (37 - 2009).
She also added three steals and a pair of blocks in the contest, and scored her 500th career point with a free throw late in the first half.
Though Henricson didn't have a flashy stat line (three points, three rebounds, three assists), she also drew five offensive fouls versus the Redhawks, as Western drew eight total offensive fouls on the night.
“I wish they kept records for charges taken, because I think Rebecca Henricson probably would have broken it tonight," Gravina added. "She just beats people to spots, and she’s getting thrown to the floor, but she gets right back up.”
As a team, Western shot a season-best 88.9 percent (24-of-27) from the free throw line, better than SEMO's 62.5 percent (10-of-16).
The Redhawks did have the advantage in 3-point shooting (33.3 percent - 6-of-18 to 15.0 percent - 3-of-20), but Western shot better from the field overall (41.9 percent - 26-of-62 to 35.0 percent - 21-of-60).
WIU topped Southeast Missouri in points in the paint (40-16), points off turnovers (27-11) and fast break points (14-0).
Olivia Hackmann (14 points), Jordan Hunter (11) and Allyson Bradshaw (10) scored in double figures for the Redhawks.
After a break during finals week, Western Illinois will again play at home on Dec. 19, welcoming SIU-Edwardsville to Macomb at 7 p.m.
“We want to focus on finals. One of our team goals at the beginning of the year was to make the top 25 in GPAs in the nation, so they’ve got to really focus on that," Gravina said. "We’ll have a couple days off, some light days of practice, and even a couple days when they can go home and then come back really energized to work and get ready for an Edwardsville team that beat us pretty good at their place last year.”