Final: Illinois 62, Eastern Illinois 54
The Illini outscored Eastern Illinois 15-8 over the final seven minutes to secure a second-round WNIT victory Monday night at the Assembly Hall.
Illnois (18-13) advanced to a third-round matchup against Toledo. The location, date and time of that game are expected to be announced later tonight.
The Illini trailed by as many as eight points in the second half, but went on an 11-2 run to take a 44-41 lead. With the score tied at 44, Amber Moore sank a three-pointer to give Illinois a lead it would never relinquish.
Center Karisma Penn led Illinois with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Teammate Adrienne GodBold also had a near double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Forward Mariah King scored a game-high 23 points for the Panthers and also led all rebounders with 12.
The victory was the 300th of first-year Illini coach Matt Bollant's college coaching career.
11:55 left in the second half
Eastern Illinois 39, Illinois 36
Hero: Mariah King. The EIU senior forward scored her team's first eight points of the second half, helping put Illinois in a 37-31 hole.
Goat: Illini shooters around the basket. Wish I had an exact number on the times Illinois has missed shots right at or under the basket. This would be a much different game if the Illini were converting those.
What I'm thinking:
-- The Illini need more from their senior leaders, Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold, especially on offense. They're shooting a combined 7 for 22.
-- There are times tonight when you wouldn't know this is Illinois' home court. Panthers are giving their fans plenty to cheer about.
-- Since her dominating performance to open the second half, King hasn't made much of an impact. Still stuck on 17 points for the game.
-- With Illinois shooting under 34 percent, you get the feeling Illinois is going to need to win this game with its defensive pressure. So far, EIU is doing a reasonable job of handling it.
-- You wonder how much confidence EIU got from winning at Missouri in the first round. They're certainly taking it to Illinois tonight.
Halftime: Eastern Illinois 29, Illinois 26
Hero: Ta'Kenya Nixon. We're sticking with the Eastern Illinois senior guard, who already is within one point of her season scoring average of 15.0.
Goat: Illini shooters from distance. Illinois is 2 for 9 from three-point range, a far cry from its performance in the WNIT opener against Miami (Ohio), when the Illini were 7 of 20.
What I'm thinking:
-- Someone who roots for Illinois just said the Illini are playing like they don't want to go to Toledo (the third-round opponent for tonight's winner). No argument here. Not a lot of intensity or enthusiasm is apparent so far from the Illini.
-- Karisma Penn has had a rough night offensively (3 for 10 from the field), but the Illini senior does have nine points to lead her team. It's rare that Penn does an entire game without making a major impact.There's time.
-- Combined with the second half of the WNIT opener, Illinois has been outscored 67-62 in its last 40 minutes.
-- John Groce is in the house tonight, watching from a courtside seat. I thought I saw UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise, too.
-- Another person who should be familiar to Illini baseball fans is here. Ex-Illini infielder Ryan Hastings made the trip from EIU, where he is assistant athletic director for development.
-- Tyra Buss, a player from Mount Carmel that Illinois tried to recruit, was named Illinois Ms. Basketball today. The junior scoring machine has committed to Indiana.
11:47 left in first half
Eastern Illinois 15, Illinois 13
Hero: Ta'Kenya Nixon. Eastern Illinois' career scoring leader already has nine points and is shooting 4 of 6.
Goat: Illini defenders. Illinois not playing with a lot of energy or urgency on defense, and the Panthers are taking advantage. EIU is shooting 54.5 percent (6 of 11).
What I'm thinking:
-- First time I've seen Nixon, and not what I expected. She is extremely slight of build. Listed at 5-8, but wonder if she's that tall. Definitely has made an impact on this game, though. Even contributing on the boards, using her quickness to grab four rebounds.
-- It's clear Amber Moore received a confidence boost from her last game, when the Illini guard scored 25 points. She's been aggressive with her shot, not hesitating when she' s open. Moore has six points on 3-of-6 shooting.
-- EIU is ruling the boards, 10-4. Something to keep an eye on as the game develops.
-- As expected, due to the snowstorm that blew through on Sunday and early today, the crowd isn't the biggest. But it's not small either. There's a good contingent of EIU fans sitting in the area behind and to the side of the Panther bench.
Welcome to our live report from the Assembly Hall for tonight's WNIT second-round game between Illinois and Eastern Illinois.
Central Illinois was among the area's of the Midwest that got belted by Sunday's snowstorm, but it won't prevent this game from being played. The UI snowplows did their job in clearing out parking spaces outside the Hall. Now, the question is what impact the storm will have on tonight's attendance. Thanks to the storm, area school children got the day off from classes. Will they be eager to get out of the house tonight and pressure their parents to take them? Will parents who went to work be willing to head out the door again? Will the older fans who make up a signficant percentage of the program's fan base be dissuaded from driving to the Hall by the snow?
Attendance is a significant issue in this tournament because WNIT officials take it into consideration when deciding which teams will host in the next round. Illinois drew a season-low 903 fans for its WNIT opener last Thursday. The team that wins this game will face Toledo in the third round. Toledo has averaged 4.049 for 16 home games this season and drew crowds of 2,500-plus for the first round rounds of the WNIT.
The WNIT was quick to announce the day, time and location of the next round following the Illini's first-round game. Hopefully, that's the case tonight.
The Illni enter with a 17-13 record, while Eastern Illinois is 20-11. The Panthers, who opened the WNIT at Missouri, are 7-3 in their last 10 true road games.
EIU's best player is Ta'Kenya Nixon, a 5-foot-8 senior guard who is averaging 15 points and 5.9 assists. She scored 27 points, including what proved to be the game-winning basket, against Missouri in a 60-58 Panther victory in the first round. In the process, Nixon became the Panthers' career scoring leader. How the Illini fare defensively against Nixon could go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
Redshirt junior guard Amber Moore is coming off a big game for Illinois. She matched her season highs with 25 points and five three-pointers Thursday in the 73-60 victory against Miami (Ohio). In that same game, Illini senior center Karisma Penn became the seventh player in Big Ten women's basketball history to top 1,900 points and 1,000 rebounds for a career.
Illini coach Matt Bollant will reach a career milestone tonight if Illinois wins. A victory would be the 300th of his college head coaching career. He won 134 games at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., and 148 at Wisconsin-Green Bay before being hired by Illinois last March. He enters tonight with a 299-68 record.
We'll update this report at about the mdpoint and the end of each half, so be sure to check back.