Senior Whitney Toone was key down the stretch in the second half for Illinois' road victory over Illinois State.
Nov. 24, 2009
NORMAL, Ill. - Jolette Law's Fighting Illini overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and pulled away down the stretch for an impressive 62-51 victory at Illinois State on Tuesday evening at Redbird Arena. Illinois outscored the Redbirds 38-20 in the second half to win its fourth straight game and improve to 4-1 on the season. Senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith led the way with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Illinois used an 8-0 run midway through the second half to take control of the game. The Illini trailed 42-40 with 11:48 to play after a jumper by ISU's Nicolle Lewis, but responded with a jumper by senior Lacey Simpson and a putback bucket by Fabiola Josil on successive possessions to take a 44-42 lead. Illinois would never trail again as its stifling defense held the Redbirds scoreless for a span of 5:12 while opening up a 48-42 lead with under seven minutes left.
Illinois State (2-2) cut its deficit to four after a pair of free throws by Shala Jackson made the Illinois lead 48-44, but the Illini responded once again with a Simpson three-pointer and a bucket by senior Whitney Toone, pushing the lead out to nine at 53-44 with 4:47 left. The Illini then hit 9-of-11 free throws in the final minutes to put the game away.
Simpson hit 3-of-5 from three-point range and finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds in 40 minutes. She is now 9-of-16 from downtown for the season (56.3 percent) and has already surpassed her three-point total from a year ago (she was 8-of-37 in 2008-09).
Smith, meanwhile, hit 5-of-11 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line for her game-high 19 points. She now has 1,644 career points and moves past Angelina Williams (1,639) for fourth on the UI career scoring list. She narrowly missed her fifth-straight double-double but did score in double-figures for the 44th straight game despite sitting for over six minutes in the first half with two fouls.
Illinois also got big contributions from sophomores Fabiola Josil (six points and five rebounds in 19 minutes), Whitney Toone (six points and two steals in 11 minutes) and Macie Blinn (five points and two rebounds in 19 minutes). With freshman Brianna Jones missing her second straight game with an Achilles injury, freshman Adrienne Godbold in foul trouble and freshman Karisma Penn struggling (four points on 1-of-8 shooting), the play of the sophomores was key to the Illini victory.
Illinois shot a season-low 38.5 percent from the field, but hit 7-of-15 from behind the arc (46.7 percent) and 88.2 percent from the line (15-of-17), while holding the Redbirds to just 31 percent shooting. Illinois State was led by Maggie Krick's 17 points, but was held scoreless for the final 11 minutes of the game.
A three-pointer at the halftime buzzer by ISU's Maggie Spanich gave the Redbirds a 31-24 lead at the break. Illinois' Smith picked up her second foul at the 6:19 mark of the first half and sat the rest of the way. Illinois State took advantage of the Illini without their star, closing the half on a 16-4 run to take the momentum into halftime.
The Illini continue their four-game road swing by heading out west for Thanksgiving to play in the Cal Poly Holiday Beach Classic in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Illinois will face Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 28, at 4 p.m. CT and Alabama on Sunday, Nov. 29, at 4 p.m. CT.