CHICAGO, Ill. - Saule Kontautaite scored 17 of her team season-high 25 points in the second half, including three key 3-pointers that put Western Illinois ahead for good, in a 65-61 road win at Loyola on Wednesday night (Dec. 5). The Leathernecks improved to 4-4 overall.
It marked the first-ever win over the Rambers in five meetings all-time, and thanks to the second half rally Western won after trailing at the half.
Western had missed 15 straight shots from 3-point range during one point of the game, but Charnelle Reed drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 38-all with 12 minutes left. The Ramblers quickly regained the lead hitting a 3-pointer and adding a jumper. The lead jumped to 10 when Monica Albano and Patrice King made consecutive 3-pointers with just over eight minutes left. That's when Kontautaite started to take over.
Down by nine, Kontautaite hit two free throws then Ashley Luke added two from the free throw line cutting the deficit to five. With just over four minutes left, the senior guard hit three straight 3s, the last giving Western a 58-56 lead - one it would not relinquish.
Jackie Rieger hit two free throws extending the lead to 62-56, but King hit another 3-pointer and Taylor Johnson added a jumper in the lane to make it a one-point game with 39 seconds left. Kontautaite hit a lay-up that rolled around the rim and went in for a 64-61 lead. Johnson attempted a 3-pointer in the final seconds but didn't even hit rim. Michelle Maher was quickly fouled and hit a free throw to seal the win.
The Leathernecks finished 6-of-31 from 3-point range, five coming from Kontautaite.
"We can't shoot it must worse than we did tonight, but the neat thing about us and being able to shoot the ball, is we can score points in a hurry. If we can hang in there defensively we can get hot and win a game," said head coach JD Gravina. "We were getting stops on the other end, and I think this was our best rebounding effort of the year. They are a great rebounding team... this is huge for our confidence with an important stretch of games coming up."
Western got out to 7-0 lead, including a 3-pointer from Kontautaite, but Loyola (3-4 overall) scored eight straight to briefly take a lead. A Luke bank shot gave Western a 19-16 lead, but from there the Leathernecks went nearly six minutes without scoring.
Luke ripped away an offensive rebound and her putback ended the scoring drought, but the Leathernecks still trailed 23-21 at the six minute mark. The Ramblers got another three, and led by as many as six in the final minutes before Jackie Rieger's free throws cut the deficit. The Leathernecks eventually trailed by five at the break.
"I thought it was big for us that we got out to an early lead. Being on the road, you feel like you're in the game. Loyola made a good run to respond... they are a good team. We had to grind it out to stay close," said Gravina.
Kontautaite's 25 points were a season-high and one shy of her personal-best. She added four rebounds in 35 minutes. Rieger sank a career-high 10 free throws, accounting for all her points. She cleared away six defensive rebounds and added two assists.
Maher's final free throw gave her 10 points for the game. Luke's 12 rebounds set a career-high, and she matched her high scoring seven points.
Western finished shooting 34 percent from the field, hit 17-of-25 free throws and held a 50-42 edge in rebounds. Loyola shot 37 percent from the field, and was only 4-of-10 at the free throw line. Johnson was one of three in double-figures, tallying 16 points.
The Leathernecks travel to Southeast Missouri on Saturday (Dec. 8), tipoff at the Show-Me Center is scheduled for 3 p.m.