VERMILLION, S.D. - Western Illinois missed a chance to tie the game with five seconds left and South Dakota sealed it with free throws as the Fighting Leathernecks dropped a 71-67 decision on Saturday (Feb. 23).
Down by four with two minutes left, Ashley Luke scored on a lay-in then Polly Harrington made 1-of-2 free throws with 40 seconds left as Western trailed 68-65. Charnelle Reed hit a runner in the lane, and the Leathernecks (12-15 overall, 5-9 Summit) were only down a possession when Alexis Yackley missed one of her two attempts at the line.
Reed drove the lane but her shot rimmed out. After quickly fouling, Nicole Seekamp sank both free throws to seal the win.
"We had a really good shot to tie it there at the end. I thought Charnelle's shot was going in," said head coach JD Gravina.
Reed gave Western its biggest lead of the game when she converted a three-point play with 9:35 remaining for a 54-47 advantage. Tempestt Wilson scored six points and Seekamp added a lay-in to put the Coyotes (14-14, 9-6) in the lead following that 8-0 run.
Both teams went back-and-forth as the lead changed hands a total of 10 times. Jackie Rieger tied the game at 56-all with two free throws, then Ashley Luke put the Leathernecks ahead 59-58 on another inside basket. Western traded baskets with Wilson and Seekamp. However, after Reed put Western up with 5:18 left, Wilson made a layup then followed with a 3-pointer and the Coyotes never trailed again.
"It was a good, hard-fought game. Both teams really wanted it, but it came down to a couple of clutch rebounds really. The last 4-5 minutes they got some offensive rebounds that really hurt us and they hit some clutch free throws," said Gravina. "Our team did a good job. It seems like every time we would get back in it they would hit a couple of free throws or a shot to go back up... Overall I'm pretty happy with the way our team played. We've got to find a way to get clutch rebounds down the stretch."
Western started off strong from 3-point range, led by Michelle Maher, hitting six of its first 10 attempts. Four different players hit a '3', with Maher accounting for three. Her last of the half put the freshman guard into a tie for 10th place among the Western season 'Top 10' leaders.
The Leathernecks extended their lead to 23-17 following that 3-pointer by Maher. South Dakota closed out the half on a 14-6 run, and took a halftime lead when Pam January got the bounce on a friendly rim and 31-29 score.
Overall Western shot 44 percent from the field and was 7-of-22 from 3-point range, but missed 11 of its final 12 shot attempts from long range. The team went 12-of-14 at the free throw line, including Rieger's 9-of-10 effort.
Luke registered her fifth double-double, 16 points and 10 rebounds while matching a career-high with three blocks. Rieger added 11 points and seven rebounds, and Maher chipped in 15 points and four assists. Saule Kontautaite and Reed scored 10 points each.
Wilson scored a game-high 24 points, 14 in the second half, and Seekamp scored 16 of her 19 points in the final half.
The Leathernecks played their second straight game in a 24-hour timeframe due to the snow postponement in Kansas City. Gravina said this should help his team come tournament time in two weeks.
"I think it's important, and these players are pretty resilient. I think it's tougher on the coaches maybe than them. They're used to playing eight games a weekend at AAU, so I feel like our effort was definitely there, our energy was there. It came down to a tough basketball game on the road where they hit enough shots to win," said Gravina.
Western closes out its home schedule next week, starting with a Thursday contest (Feb. 28) against Fort Wayne. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.