OMAHA, Neb. - Western Illinois was able to erase a 12-point deficit in the second half, but Omaha went on a game-deciding 10-3 run to close out the game and hand the Fighting Leathernecks a 63-55 defeat on Thursday night (Feb. 7). Western dropped to 10-13 overall and 3-7 in the Summit League.
Early in the second half Taijhe Kelly scored a lay-in to put the Mavericks (16-7, 6-5) up 39-27 before Western started charging back. Charnelle Reed scored five straight then Paige Harmon added a pair of free throws.
Two free throws from Jackie Rieger, followed by another three from Reed made it a four point deficit. The freshman guard converted another lay-in to account for all 10 of her points off the bench in a five minute stretch.
Michelle Maher drained a 3-pointer then Western finally tied the game at 49-all at the 5:26 mark when Saule Kontautaite hit a 3-pointer. Rieger tied the game a minute later with two more free throws. Ashley Luke made it a one-point game down 53-52 after her free throw, but from there Omaha was able to withstand three shots by Western to take the lead and finally pulled away keyed by a 3-pointer by Ericka House and 3-point play by Paige Frauendorfer.
"When we don't shoot it well our intensity drops. Once we picked up our intensity in the second half we actually started making layups, getting to the free throw line and making them. Down the stretch, I would bet five out of seven or eight possessions they got an offensive rebound. We got zero second chance points against their zone and that was a point of emphasis. They outrebounded us by eight and we outrebounded them by seven at our place," said head coach JD Gravina.
During the first half Western trailed in double-digits before rallying to make it a 31-25 game at the break. The Leathernecks shot just 35 percent from the field while Omaha hit 38 percent in the opening half. Overall Western at 34 percent, went 6-of-19 from 3-point range and was 13-of-18 at the line. No starter, however, scored in double-figures.
"First of all, you can't pick and choose your moments to play hard. I thought we did that in the first half. There are definitely players on our team that play hard, there's no question. But our lack of emotion is just unacceptable. We are trying everything we can to get them motivated - I tell them these games are special. It doesn't matter what our record is, or if you get to play or not. We did some things to work on our mental approach to the game," said Gravina. "Jackie Rieger stepped up and hit her free throws. Paige Harmon and Rebecca Henricson are doing a good job to get to the free throw line. We were really struggling to shoot too. It's just a matter of getting our confidence back."
Rieger scored six of her season-high 13 points at the free throw line. The senior forward added five rebounds and two assists. Reed chipped in her 10 points off the bench. Luke once again nearly recorded a double-double, finishing with nine points and team-high nine rebounds.
Kelly led the Mavs with 13 rebounds along with 10 points and seven blocked shots. Frauendorfer went 10-of-11 at the free throw line for 23 points. Two other Mavericks scored in double-figures.
Western will take a week off before returning home next Thursday (Feb. 14), playing host to North Dakota State. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.