A perfect month. The best pre-conference record in program history. A stat line by a single player unmatched since 2008, and a career-high scoring performance by another player. A seven-game winning streak to carry into the new year. That and more spawned out of the performance of the Valpo women’s basketball team Monday night in Charleston, Ill., as the Brown and Gold closed the 2019 calendar year with a 78-66 victory over Eastern Illinois.
How It Happened
- Valpo trailed for just 48 seconds on Monday, as Eastern Illinois connected on the game’s first basket after both teams went scoreless for the opening three minutes. Two possessions later, sophomore Shay Frederick (Greenville, Wis./Hortonville) drained a 3-pointer to give Valpo the lead.
- Valpo’s lead was just one point with two minutes remaining in the opening quarter before it reeled off eight straight to close the period. Senior Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind./Westview) and junior Marlee Profitt (Medina, Ohio/Highland) started the spurt with back-to-back inside baskets, while sophomore Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill./Montini Catholic) knocked down a pair of free throws with 24 seconds to play.
- Valpo then got a stop on a shot with nine seconds to play in the quarter and raced the ball upcourt. Pitts got it to junior Grace White (Redby, Minn./Red Lake [Denver]) on the right wing, and despite being covered up, White drilled an 18-footer as time expired to cap the eight-point spurt and give Valpo a 19-10 advantage at the end of the opening period.
- The story of the second quarter was Valpo’s response every time the Panthers cut the lead into single digits. Valpo earned its first double-digit lead on a triple by Hales just 15 seconds into the quarter.
- EIU converted a 3-point play with 8:37 to play in the half to make it a 22-15 game, but Valpo replied immediately with another 3-pointer – this one courtesy of White to push the lead back to 10.
- A 7-0 run for the Panthers cut Valpo’s lead to 32-24 with 4:09 to play in the half, but this time, it was Valpo’s inside play which extended the advantage back into double figures. On consecutive possessions, White and sophomore Carie Weinman (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South [Denver]) hit Profitt for layups in the paint to make it a 12-point game.
- EIU looked like it had cut its deficit into single digits at halftime as it scored off a turnover in the waning seconds of the half, but Frederick had other ideas, rushing the ball forward and unloading a 35-footer just before the buzzer that found the basket to make it 44-32 Valpo at intermission.
- The first six minutes of the third quarter were not kind to Valpo, as Eastern Illinois went on a 15-3 run over that span to tie the game at 47 apiece. The Brown and Gold were 0-for-7 from the floor and committed three turnovers in that stretch.
- But the final four minutes of the quarter proved to be the antithesis of the first six and would propel Valpo to victory. The Crusaders had six possessions in the final four minutes and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range with a turnover on those trips down the court. Pitts got the party started with a triple, and then Hales and junior Addison Stoller (Cissna Park, Ill./Cissna Park) alternated the final four 3-pointers of the period – Stoller connecting on the last one in the final seconds of the quarter.
- Meanwhile, while the offense couldn’t miss, the defense kept EIU completely off the board as well, as Valpo ended the period on a 15-0 run to take a 62-47 lead into the fourth.
- The run eventually extended to 21-0, as White scored the first four points of the fourth quarter and then hit junior Caitlin Morrison (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South) on the break for a basket to give Valpo a 68-47 lead.
- In the end, Valpo held EIU without a point for a stretch of 8:18 spanning the two quarters, and Valpo’s lead would not fall under the final margin the rest of the way.
Inside the Game
- Monday’s win pushes Valpo’s winning streak to seven straight games, just the seventh-such streak in program history. It is Valpo’s first time winning at least seven consecutive games since the 2001-02 team won 10 straight Jan. 28-March 4, 2002.
- With Monday’s win, Valpo closes pre-conference play with an 8-3 record, setting a new program standard for the best winning percentage before the start of conference action. The aforementioned 2001-02 team also held the previous best winning percentage in pre-conference play, going 9-4 before opening Mid-Continent Conference action.
- Valpo closed out the month of December without suffering a single defeat, going a perfect 5-0 for the month. It is just the third perfect month in program history, joining February 2002 (7-0) and January 1998 (8-0).
- Valpo also continued its recent success away from home, extending its road winning streak to three straight games – its longest winning streak on the road since winning four straight road games Jan. 6-24, 2007.
- Valpo is now 4-2 in true road games this year, already matching the most road wins in a season over the last decade, as the 2017-18 and 2011-12 teams both won four road games as well.
- It was the Grace and Grace show Monday night in the winning effort, as Hales and White led the way for Valpo. Hales started the night strong, scoring seven points in the first quarter and 15 in the first half en route to a career-high 25 points, surpassing her previous best of 21, which she had done four times. Hales ended the night with four 3-pointers and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line, and tallied six rebounds as well.
- Meanwhile, White’s impact was felt up and down the box score. The junior scored a super-efficient 20 points for a season high, going 6-of-8 from the field – including 4-of-6 from 3-point range – and 4-of-4 from the foul line.
- Beyond that, White secured a career-high 10 rebounds to lead all players. The double-double was the first by a Valpo player since Stoller recorded 15 points and 10 boards in last year’s MVC Tournament quarterfinal against Drake.
- White also handed out a career-best seven assists, and chipped in two steals and two blocked shots as well. She was the first Valpo player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists since Agnieszka Kulaga posted 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in an overtime win over Green Bay in January 2008.
- While Hales and White were the only two in double figures in the scoring column, Monday’s win was a total team effort. All eight players who played scored – the second straight game every player who has taken the court has found the basket – and seven of those players tallied at least five points.
- Weinman notched seven rebounds, Frederick handed out five assists and committed just one turnover, and Pitts came off the bench with five points, a season-high tying five rebounds and three assists.
- Valpo enjoyed its most prolific night from the 3-point line of the season to date, knocking down 13 triples and connecting at a 40.6% clip (13-of-32) from downtown. The Crusaders also continued their strong season at the foul line, going 15-of-17 from the charity stripe.
- While Valpo’s defense forced just nine EIU turnovers, an aberration from the recent stretch where it had tallied 10 or more steals in four straight games, the Brown and Gold limited the Panthers to just 38.1% shooting from the floor.
- Valpo also ended the night with a 40-31 advantage on the glass – the first time this season Valpo has out-rebounded its opponent.
Thoughts From Coach Evans
“I am really happy with the team’s overall performance. I thought they came out and executed well both offensively and defensively. Eastern made some nice adjustments at halftime, and we got off to a slow start in the third. I thought our team committing to improving our communication and ball pressure helped spark our answer to their third quarter run. Our players should be really proud of how they handled the adversity of losing the lead, refocusing and going on a run of our own.”
“Grace Hales is a fantastic shooter. I knew it was just a matter of time until she really got rolling. Her hot start really got us going in the first quarter and I believe her teammates gain a lot of confidence when they see her make shots.”
“Grace White is a really talented basketball player. She has a tremendous basketball IQ and is a great passer. Eastern plays a really unique zone and having her, along with Shay and Ilysse, up top allowed us to attack it really effectively. She also really crashed the glass tonight. She will continue to get better and better within our system as she continues to learn and understand our principles.”
“Ilysse was fantastic tonight! She played probably her best game of her career. She is a really explosive athlete and used that to make some really special plays tonight. She was huge in the third quarter, coming in off the bench and hitting a shot when we needed to take back momentum. We have a really deep bench this year and I am confident we will have a lot of different players step up night in and night out.”
“This team deserves a lot of credit for what they have accomplished during the non-conference. They have continued to work and learn every day. They have bought in to the team concept and sacrificing personal success for the success of the team. They should be really around of what they have accomplished so far. We are looking forward to starting Valley play and will continue to approach it one game at a time. We will prepare during the week and play games on the weekend. Win or lose, we will learn from them and try and continue to grow every day. Our goal is to be playing our best basketball in March.”
Valpo (8-3) opens the 2020 calendar year and Missouri Valley Conference play simultaneously on Friday evening at the ARC when it welcomes Southern Illinois to town. Game time is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN+.