Women's Basketball
Defense Leads Illini to 62-54 WNIT Win Over EIU

Karisma Penn had 19 points and nine rebounds to lift the Illini past Eastern Illinois on Monday.
Karisma Penn had 19 points and nine rebounds to lift the Illini past Eastern Illinois on Monday.

March 25, 2013

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Four Illini players scored in double figures and held Eastern Illinois to one field goal in the final 3:45 as Illinois beat the Panthers 62-54 in a second-round WNIT game at the Assembly Hall on Monday, giving head coach Matt Bollant his 300th career win. Karisma Penn led the Illini with 19 points, Amber Moore added 16, Ivory Crawford had 11 and Adrienne Godbold scored 10 as Illinois broke the school record for turnovers forced in a season, causing 22 EIU miscues.

The Illini (18-13) survive and advance to the WNIT round of 16, where they will face Toledo (29-3), Thursday, March 28, at 6 p.m. CT in Savage Arena on Toledo, Ohio. It is the fourth time in school history that Illinois has advanced to the third round of the WNIT, also accomplishing the feat in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

"I'm really proud of our team," Bollant said. "It was a big win for us tonight and it's a win that, a couple of months ago, I'm not sure we get that game because things weren't going our way. At the start of the second half, we gave up about five offensive rebounds in the first five minutes and it just seemed like it was a struggle and we didn't have a lot of joy. Before, I think we wouldn't have kept fighting and really had the heart to make it happen, and today, we did. I think that's growth in our team. I thought KP, in the second half, just refused to be guarded. That was big for our team."

Eastern Illinois caught fire early, racing out to a 13-4 lead with 14:49 left. But Illinois found a rhythm, hitting its next three shots to pull within 13-11. Each team notched a bucket then went cold for the next five-plus minutes before EIU's Ta'Kenya Nixon hit a free throw with 6:32 to break the silence.

Illinois pulled ahead on a pair of free throws and a jumper by Penn, then Ivory Crawford hit a three to push the Illini ahead 20-16, forcing an EIU timeout. The Panthers got a trey out of the timeout 10-2 run to go up 26-22 with 2:09 left in the half. The teams played even to the intermission, as the Panthers took a 29-26 lead to the locker room.

EIU scored the first four points of the second half, but Illinois sandwiched a Moore trey and a GodBold jumper around a layup by the Panthers' Mariah King to pull within 35-31. But EIU expanded the margin to eight when the Illini went cold from the field, missing their next three shots and turning it over once.

Moore hit 1-of-2 free throws and Alexis Smith made a layup to pull within 39-34, then Penn scored the game's next four points. Penn then stole the ball and threw it ahead to Crawford, who laid it in, giving Illinois its first lead of the second half at 40-39. EIU went back ahead on a King layup, but GodBold hit a close jumper and Smith nailed an 18-footer around two EIU turnovers and a missed three-pointer. But EIU's Sabina Oroszova hit a corner three to tie it at 44 with 7:34 left.

After the under-8 media timeout, the Illini ran a quick-hitter for Moore, who drained a three-pointer that gave Illinois the lead for good. EIU cut it to one with a layup by King, but Penn hit a jumper on the block and Crawford got another runout off a Panther turnover, converting the layup to push the Orange and Blue up 51-46.

The teams traded free throws and GodBold added a short jumper, making the Illini lead 55-48, but EIU's Kelsey Wyss drained a three-pointer. The Illini kept their poise, though, as Penn spun through the lane for a layup that made the lead 57-51 with 4:11 left. Illinois ramped up its defensive pressure, forcing three straight missed shots by the Panthers before Ta'Kenya Nixon nailed a trey to pull EIU within 57-54 with 2:02 remaining.

Things tightened up as GodBold missed a trey, but Crawford hauled in the offensive rebound. Wyss fouled Amber Moore, but Moore - a 90 percent free-throw shooter on the season - missed the front end of a one-and-one. But EIU missed a jumper and GodBold missed a driving runner by Nixon, with Penn clearing the rebound with 37 seconds left. lllinois hit its free throws down the stretch, though, as Moore made 3-of-4 and Crawford nailed a pair all in the final 37 seconds, to seal the 62-54 win.