Women’s basketball team caps off season with win in overtime, snaps 12-game skid

Freshman+Karle+Pace+cuts+past+a+Southern+Illinois+Edwardsville+player+in+Eastern%27s+win+Saturday.+It+was+Eastern%27s+third+win+of+the+season.

Karina Delgado

Freshman Karle Pace cuts past a Southern Illinois Edwardsville player in Eastern’s win Saturday. It was Eastern’s third win of the season.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

Eastern women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant came into the postgame press conference all smiles and covered in water and for good reason. His team doused him with water after breaking a 12-game losing streak in overtime against Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

The Panthers beat the Cougars 76-72 and in the final game of the season seemed to shake all the demons that had plagued them throughout the season.

All season long, the Panthers have been unable to close out games or play well for an entire four quarters of basketball and after playing their best basketball of the season in the first half of the game and after taking a 45-27 lead into halftime, the Panthers came out and struggled, badly in the second half.

It looked as if in the second half the one thing that has haunted the Panthers all season long was once again going to be their downfall.

In the first quarter Eastern shot 90 percent from the field, in the second they shot 41.2 percent. Then in the second half the wheels came off the bus, as they have so many times this season, and Eastern shot 13.3 percent in the third quarter and 17.6 percent in the fourth.

When the Panthers have gone into their bad stretches of a game this season, Bollant has stressed the need for a player to step up and be a leader for the team and to this point in the season, no one had been doing that.

That was the difference against the Cougars however. This time the Panthers got the playmakers they needed down the stretch to pull out a win.

Junior forward Jalisha Smith came up big late in regulation and in overtime for the Panthers, scoring 11 of her 15 points in the final two quarters as she tallied a 15-point, 14-rebound double-double.

“(Bollant) told us we need to keep fighting because the game is not over. Everybody had to focus and do what they are good at and we got good results,” Smith said. ” I knew I could rebound so that’s what I really focused on doing. I knew I could get to the basket, so I kept on driving and they kept fouling me every time, so I got to the line and really tried to attack the boards.”

Eastern held a lead from early in the first quarter up until with six minutes to play the Cougars tied the game at 52-52. The two teams would exchange the lead four more times before the end of regulation.

With 25 seconds to play in regulation, the Cougars Lauren White jumped in front of a pass from Taylor Steele to Karle Pace, and took the ball in for a score, tying the game at 60-60.

In overtime, the Panthers jumped out to a 68-62 lead with 2:34 to play.

The Cougars pulled back within three point at 72-69 with 29 seconds to play, but they began to foul and Eastern padded its lead to eventually win the game 76-72.

Eastern had arguably its best quarter of the season to start the game. The Panthers came out and shot 90 percent from the field in the first quarter, including 5-of-5 from three-point range and led 23-12 at the end of the quarter.

The Panthers were reigned in somewhat in the second quarter, they shot 41.7 percent but still held the Cougars to just 35.7 percent shooting and took a 45-27 lead into halftime.

“I thought we played our best first half of the year, we played really together,” Bollant said. “We were 9-of-10 in the first quarter and shared the ball. 5-of-5 from three and stepped up and made plays.”

The Panthers finish their season with a 3-26 overall record and 2-16 in conference.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].