Jenna Smith (right) was named tournament MVP and Chelsea Gordon to the All-Tournament Team at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic.
Nov. 25, 2007
MIAMI, Fla. - Led by tournament MVP Jenna Smith's 29 points and 10 rebounds, Illinois held on to defeat Providence College, 60-59, in the championship game of the FIU Thanksgiving Classic Sunday afternoon at Pharmed Arena in Miami. The Fighting Illini never trailed in the game and led by as many as 13 in the second half, but had to fight-off a furious Friar rally in the final seconds to improve to 5-1 on the season.
"Our kids found a way to get it done today," said Illini head coach Jolette Law after the win. "It's good that we can look back to the UAB game (a 69-56 loss) and see progress, because today this team didn't give in. Providence made a run and we didn't back down. We were able to figure out a lot about ourselves this weekend and now we know some things we need to work on. At the same time, I'm very happy to come down here and get two wins against teams from the SEC and Big East."
As she has done all year, Smith came up big for the Orange and Blue, particularly late, when she grabbed a huge offensive rebound of a Lori Bjork miss with the Illini up two at the 1:02 mark of the game. Smith was fouled on the put-back attempt and knocked down two free throws to put Illinois up 60-56 with a minute to play. After Providence's Mi-Khida Hankins hit a jumper to make it 60-58 and Smith missed on the other end, the Friars had a final possession to win or tie.
On that last possession, Providence's Emily Cournoyer took a feed from Kendria Holmes and was fouled by Lacey Simpson under the basket with 2.8 second remaining. Cournoyer hit the first free throw and missed the second, but PC's Trinity Hull grabbed the offensive rebound and fired up a contested three at the buzzer that was wide right, giving the Illini a narrow 60-59 win and the tournament crown.
Illinois led 34-25 at the half behind a perfect first half by Smith. The sophomore hit all six of her shots and all four of her free throws and went into the break with 16 points and five rebounds. As a team, the Illini shot 57 percent (13-of-23) in the first half, but kept PC close with 13 turnovers.
In the second half, Illinois pushed the lead to 13 after a pair of free throws by Smith made the score 38-25 with just over 16 minutes to play, but the Friars responded with a 16-4 run to make the score 42-41 with under 10 minutes left and it would be a dog-fight from that point on. Providence (4-2) got within one point on five different occasions, but each time the Illini responded. Illinois shot just 20 percent from the field in the second half (5-of-24), but knocked down 16-of-17 from the charity stripe and had only three second half turnovers to hold on for the win.
Smith hit 8-of-14 from the field and was a perfect 13-of-13 from the line and picked up her fifth double-double in six games this season to earn Most Valuable Player honors. For the weekend, Smith averaged 23.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, shot 64 percent from the field (16-of-25) and 93 percent from the line (14-of-15). Junior Chelsea Gordon, who had six points on Sunday to go along with 12 in Friday's win over South Carolina, also represented Illinois on the All-Tournament Team. Providence's Cournoyer and Holmes, South Carolina's Jordan Jones and Florida International's Laquetta Furguson rounded out the All-Tournament team.
"Jenna is a workhorse," Law said of Smith. "I'd put her up against any post in the country and take my chances. She can be as good as she wants to be and today she put us on her back and led us to a victory. Our goal was to take it right at Providence's posts, and both Jenna and Crutch (Danyel Crutcher) found a way to get it done."
Crutcher was the only other Illini in double figures with 12 points, while sophomore Lacey Simpson had game highs in steals (5) and assists (4). Holmes led Providence with 19 points, 13 of which came in the second half. For the game, Illinois held a big edge in second chance points (17-6) and free throws, as the Illini hit 23-of-26 from the line to PC's 6-of-7.
The Illini will now head back to Champaign to resume classes before hitting the road again for a Thursday game at North Carolina State as part of the inaugural Big Ten/ACC Women's Basketball Challenge. Tip-off at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. is set for 7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT.