CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – After a close first half, Illinois came out as the aggressor in the third period and downed SIUE women's basketball 74-57 at the State Farm Center.
"Illinois swung the momentum of the game in their direction during the first three minutes of the third quarter," said SIUE Head Coach Paula Buscher. "We did a good job again in the fourth quarter. We fired back and were right there."
SIUE trailed at halftime 41-36, but an 18-8 third quarter run pushed the Illinois lead to double digits.
Nakiah Bell led the SIUE offense with 17 points, including a season-high five three-pointers. Jay'nee Alston added three three-pointers. SIUE outshot Illinois from three-point land by hitting 9 of 23 (39.1 percent) to the Illini's 5 of 17 (29.4 percent).
"She (Bell) is stepping up," said Buscher. "She is doing the things we need her to do. She has always been a great shooter, and we're moving the ball better to get her shots. She pulled out a couple of really tough shots in the first half."
Illinois, 8-2, countered by holding strong in the paint, scoring more than half of its points from short range. Illinois finished with 38 points in the paint to SIUE's 16.
Alex Wittinger paced the Illini with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Brandi Beasley scored 13 while Ali Andrews knocked down 12.
The Cougars held their own on the boards but dropped the overall rebounds battle 41-36. SIUE grabbed 16 offensive rebounds with seven different players crashing the offensive glass.
"We felt like we needed to do a good job with offensive rebounding," Buscher said. "We needed to get second-chance baskets."
SIUE finished with 15 second-chance points.
"I think we played aggressive to start the game," said Buscher. "We didn't play perfect, but I like our toughness and resiliency. We were persistent all game long, except in that third quarter."
SIUE, 4-4, has its road trip continue for tournament play next week as the team heads to Kansas City, Missouri, for the Roos Holiday Classic. The Cougars take on host UMKC Thursday at 4 p.m. followed by a 3 p.m. contest Friday against Missouri State.