Lydia McCully scored a career-high 15 points against SDSU.
Nov. 27, 2008
CANCUN, Mexico - Illinois dropped its second heartbreaker in as many days, falling 62-60 to South Dakota State Thursday night in the Caribbean Challenge. Junior All-American center Jenna Smith led the way with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting and redshirt freshman Lydia McCully had a career-high 15 points as the Illini dropped to 3-3 on the season.
The Illini led by 13 at halftime and by as many as 15 early in the second half, but the Jackrabbits surged ahead with an 11-0 run midway through the second half to turn a 47-38 deficit into a 49-47 lead. Illinois would tie it up four times after that, but couldn't get over the hump down the stretch. The back-breaking shot came after SDSU's Jennifer Warkenthien got an offensive rebound with just over a minute left and then knocked down an three later in the possession to put Illinois down 60-57 with 36.6 seconds left.
Smith missed a long three-pointer on Illinois' ensuing possession and SDSU salted the game away with two free throws with 6.5 seconds left. Illinois' Macie Blinn hit a three-pointer just before the final buzzer to set the final at 62-60.
Illinois came out of the gates playing inspired ball, jumping out to leads to 17-7 and 29-15 thanks to pressure defense and hot shooting. Smith was able to get into the act early, hitting her first seven shots, and junior forward Lacey Simpson added 11 first half point to go along with three steals and three blocks. Jackrabbit guard Kristin Rotert nearly single-handedly kept SDSU in the game with 17 first half points, including 3-of-3 from downtown. She would finish with a game-high 26 points and would hit the two clinching free throws in the final seconds.
Smith added seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks to go along with her 22 points, while Simpson finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks. As a team, the Illini shot 59 percent in the first half and 47 percent for the game, while SDSU was on fire in the second half, shooting 63 percent in the final 20 minutes and 48 percent for the game.
Illinois had 13 steals for the game and turned that into a 23-5 edge in points off turnovers, but South Dakota State (5-1) had a big advantage at the foul line, hitting 18-of-23 (78 percent) compared to 4-of-6 for the Illini (67 percent). Rebounding was dead heat with each team pulling down 26 boards.
Senior Chelsea Gordon played for the first time in three games after injuring her ankle on Nov. 19, but was limited to just three minutes, all in the first half.
Tonight's game was the second of three games in three straight days for Illinois at the Caribbean Challenge following Wednesday's 59-57 overtime loss to Montana. The Illini will close out the tournament on Friday night by facing 10th-ranked Maryland (5-1) at 8:30 p.m. CT. Maryland has won both of its games thus far in the Caribbean Challenge, topping South Dakota State 68-56 on Wednesday and Montana 71-58 earlier on Thursday.