MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois women's basketball was unable to complete its comeback effort as it fell 61-52 to South Dakota State in front of a historic crowd inside Western Hall on Saturday evening (Feb. 16).
Eight hundred forty-eight fans were on hand to watch the contest, which was also Western Illinois' annual Think Pink event, the most since 2004 and the 10th-most in program history. The mark is also the fourth highest non-doubleheader attendance all-time.
Western Illinois falls to 11-14 overall and 4-8 in the Summit League, while South Dakota State, ranked 15th in the Mid-Major Top 25, improves to 20-7 overall and a league-best 12-2 conference mark.
"Compared to some other games this year, our effort was a lot better," head coach JD Gravina said. "I like the way we fought when we were having a pretty bad offensive night, especially in the first half, so that's encouraging.
Trailing 49-29 with less than 11 minutes to play, Kontautaite scored seven points during an 11-2 Leatherneck run that cut the deficit to 51-40 with 4:35 to play.
After an old-fashioned three-point play for SDSU, Rieger scored five straight points on a pair of free throws and a trey to cut the margin to single digits for the first time since late in the first half.
But the Jackrabbits withstood the Western Illinois spurt after that, as the teams traded baskets and Western was unable to make the margin any smaller than eight points the rest of the way.
The Leathernecks were aggressive defensively, forcing 19 turnovers and totaling 13 steals, including four from junior Rebecca Henricson, three from Kontautaite, and two apiece from redshirt-freshman Ashley Luke and freshman Michelle Maher.
Luke also added 11 points, while Rieger led the squad with five rebounds.
Gabrielle Boever (13) and Ashley Eide (12) led the Jackrabbits in scoring, while Leah Dietel pulled down a game-high eight boards.
South Dakota State had a significant edge in rebounds (46-32) and free throws made (20-9).
The Leathernecks scored the first four points of the game, but the Jackrabbits went on a 20-4 run to take command of the contest.
Western shot 19-of-56 from the field (33.9 percent) and 5-of-23 from long range (21.7 percent), compared to 18-of-54 from the field (33.3 percent) and 5-of-14 from three-point distance (35.7 percent) for SDSU.
"It was really nice to split this week," Gravina added. "As a coach, it's tough, going through so many ups-and-downs, but you have to realize that's the first time we ever swept North Dakota State, we were in the game with South Dakota State, so there are some things we can take away from this."
The Leathernecks will hit the road for a pair of road contests next week, traveling to Kansas City on Thursday (Feb. 21) at 7 p.m. and South Dakota on Saturday (Feb. 23) at 2 p.m.