Panther women come up short against Redbirds

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The Panthers had an answer for just about every Redbird basket, they just couldn’t find one at the end.

Illinois State’s Chloe Nelson hit the go-ahead jumper with 15 seconds left and Northern Iowa’s last shot was off the mark as the Redbirds held on for a 65-63 victory in a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal Friday at The Family Arena.

Nelson scored a game-high 25 points on 12-of-19 shooting as Illinois State (10-19) overcame a seven-point second-half deficit and outscored the Panthers 20-3 in points off turnovers.

“We’re very disappointed. If you look at the stats, the game was won off points off turnovers,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “They wanted it a little more than we did tonight.”

Nelson gave the Redbirds a 54-49 advantage with 5:52 left, before the Panthers responded with six straight as Madison Weekly’s triple put UNI (17-13) ahead 55-54 at the 4:57 mark.

The teams traded the lead five more times in a seesaw battle that featured nine ties and 14 lead changes. Stephanie Davison’s free throws gave UNI its last lead at 59-58 with 1:41 left, before Brooke Brown and Weekly each had tying baskets down the stretch.

Weekly’s jumper knotted the game at 63 with 29 ticks on the clock. Illinois State called timeout and Nelson delivered at the other end to send the Redbirds to the semifinals, where they’ll meet Wichita State today at 4:05 p.m.

Jen Keitel led UNI with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Brown scored 13. Weekly added 11 points, Davison had 10 and Hannah Schonhardt grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds. UNI won the battle of the boards 40-28 but had just six more second-chance points.

Illinois State trailed 35-28 at the break but rallied back by shooting 54 percent in the second half and committing only six turnovers in the game. UNI turned it over 12 times and shot just 4-of-18 from beyond the arc. The Panthers cruised past the Redbirds just eight days ago in Cedar Falls, winning 89-70 with a 54-percent shooting effort, though that clip dropped to 39 percent Friday.

“They played a little more zone than they did last time but really it wasn’t anything they did, it was just what we didn’t do,” Keitel said of the Redbirds. “It came down to us not being able to get a stop.”

UNI made just 1-of-11 3-pointers in the second half after connecting on 3-for-7 in the first. Alex Foley’s triple gave the Redbirds a 22-15 advantage with 8:12 left in the first half, though the Panthers countered with a 15-2 run and outscored Illinois State 20-6 to earn a seven-point lead at halftime.

“We never had a sense of urgency defensively,” Warren said. “We never defended how we’ve defended all year long and how we got our identity in the conference season. We went away from what allows this team to be good and it starts on the defensive end.”

Foley put the Redbirds back in front at 42-41 near the midpoint of the second half as the teams traded baskets and the lead the rest of the way before Brooke Donaldson’s potential game-winning 3 was off the mark. UNI also won the first regular season meeting 83-63. Katy Winge was the only other double-digit scorer for Illinois State with 14.