MACOMB, Ill. - After trailing by four at the break, Western Illinois women's basketball (6-5) used a second half offensive surge with under five minutes left to play to charge past Bradley (6-5) 92-81 and remain a perfect 5-0 at home.
The Leathernecks' 92-point performance is the highest scoring effort recorded since Western defeated Illinois-Springfield 109-38 in 2005.
Charnelle Reed provided the spark when she knocked down a jumper, was fouled on the play and sunk her free throw to tie the game 71-71. She laid one in on the next trip down the court to give Western the lead, and a Jackie Rieger steal gave Western the opportunity to score on its third consecutive possession. Saule Kontautaite took it, knocking one down from long range.
For every scoring effort made by the Braves, Western had the answer, by answering a Bradley free throw at the 3:45 mark with two of its own from the charity stripe and a Brave jumper with one from the hands of Ashley Luke with 2:33 left to play.
From there the Leathernecks closed out the contest outscoring the Braves by a margin of 12-5. In the final five minutes of action, Western scored a total of 24 points to Bradley's 10.
"I could probably talk about 10 possessions that were just huge," head coach JD Gravina said. "To beat a
team like Bradley, a lot of stuff has to go right. I thought they were
playing well, they were hitting some tough shots and they were really
tough to guard, but especially when we went zone, that really helped us
because it took away their possession. Defensively, other than sending
them to the free throw line, I thought we played okay."
Luke recorded her first double-double of the year in the game pulling down 12 rebounds, which match her career- and season-high, and scoring 10 points. Her six assists also matched her career- and season-high mark.
Michelle Maher paced the Leathernecks with 23 total points, a new career- and season-best. She knocked down a game-high five from long range for the second time this year in the contest and also recorded a game-high two blocks.
Also reaching double figures were Kontautaite and Reed who posted 20 and 14 points, respectively. Rebecca Henricson dished out seven assists to lead the Leathernecks and match her season- and career-high number.
The Braves were led by Kelsey Budd who scored a total of 24 points, 20 of which came in the first half of play.
Western shot 48.6 percent from the field compared to Bradley's 41.7 percent in the contest. Twenty-seven of the Braves' 81 points were earned from the free throw line on 35 opportunities, while the Leathernecks recorded 11 from the charity stripe on 15 opportunities.
"I like the improvement in our mentality - we're getting more emotional," Gravina added. "We're protecting our home court, those are things that last year weren't even in the conversation. We're undefeated at home, that something we want to continue to do."
Western Illinois opens Summit League action with a three-game road swing beginning at Oakland (Dec. 28). The Leathernecks will take on Fort Wayne (Dec. 30) on their way back to Macomb, then head to Indianapolis for a matchup against IUPUI (Jan. 5).