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Women’s College Basketball: UNI falls to Illinois State, 72-70

CEDAR FALLS – Third time wasn't a charm in the waning seconds for the Panthers in their 72-70 loss to the Illinois State Redbirds on Thursday night.

CEDAR FALLS – Third time wasn’t a charm in the waning seconds for the Panthers in their 72-70 loss to the Illinois State Redbirds on Thursday night.

UNI couldn’t find an answer for the explosive Redbird graduate transfer Paige Robinson in the team’s second matchup of the season. Despite taking a lead in the final two minutes, a late foul for the Panthers sealed their fate against Illinois State. In a physical game, UNI did win the battle under the glass with 38 rebounds and forced 13 turnovers from the Redbirds.

“Several of these games this season have gone our way, so you’ve got to give Illinois State credit they were the better team tonight,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren following the loss. “Their role players hit eight threes. They made big shots in big plays to win the basketball game. I like how we were able to fight back and take the lead. But we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make down the stretch. And they did, you have to give them credit.”

It almost felt like déjà vu for UNI with a slow start against Illinois State. The Redbirds jumped out to an eight-point lead until the Panthers found the basket over three minutes into the game. The teams would trade shots for the rest of the quarter. But UNI couldn’t find a bucket on its last possession, giving Illinois State a four-point run to end the first

The Panthers offense started to find its rhythm in the second quarter, rattling off back-to-back threes from guard Kayba Laube and forward Grace Boffeli. The two traded threes for the next two and a half minutes. A made jumper in the lane from guard Emerson Green ended the run of treys. It continued to be a back-and-forth game until UNI took advantage of two Redbird turnovers for the final points of the half. The Panthers still trailed after 20 minutes in a close 34-30 game.

The shot-for-shot pace continued into the third quarter from all areas of the floor. UNI tied the game up for the first time on an Emerson Green layup after consistently chipping away at the lead. But Illinois State responded by having the first run of the second half, for eight points to retake the lead. The Panthers responded with a short run of their own, bringing the deficit back down to five. Neither team made a break as the third came to an end with UNI down by seven after a last-second Redbird three.

Momentum swung back the Panthers way quickly in the fourth as guard Emerson Green made a trey to begin the quarter. Illinois State had the answer but UNI took a timeout to regroup, helping the offense get back in sync with one another. After the timeout, the Panthers scored eight straight points, cutting its shortfall to one. UNI continued to press the Redbirds, taking their first lead of the game with five minutes left.

It was neck and neck the rest of the way as the Panthers traded buckets with Illinois State. UNI took its first multi-point lead with just under two minutes left as guard Maya McDermott made a layup off a defensive steal from Cailyn Morgan. The game was soon tied again Illinois State made two at the line and then capitalized on an empty possession for the Panthers to go up by two. Guard Kam Finley tied the game for the final time with 32 seconds to go on a contested, one-handed layup.

On the other end, UNI committed a late shooting foul, allowing the Redbirds to retake the lead. With two shots made at the line, the Panthers had one more possession to try and force overtime. On UNI’s first inbound, a foul was called to force another inbound attempt on the far side of the court. The Panthers got the ball into McDermott’s hands, but the last-second shot behind the free throw line was short as she came up against two defenders.

From the floor, UNI was 24-63 (38.1%) while going 8-27 (29.6%) from three-point range and 14-17 (82.4%) at the free-throw line. The Panthers defense won the rebounding battle with 38 while making seven steals and one block. UNI excelled at getting points off turnovers and from offensive rebounds against Illinois State, with 12 second-chance points and points from turnovers.

Four Panthers had double-digit performances on the floor with McDermott leading the way at 17. Boffeli followed close behind with 16 while Green had 15 and Finley had 12 in her first double-digit game since the end of January. In her 10th double-double performance of the year, Boffeli grabbed 10 rebounds. Morgan shined for the second straight game in the steal’s column, picking up two along with Finley.

It will be a quick turnaround for UNI as they welcome the Bradley Braves on Saturday afternoon. Tipoff against the Braves is set for 2 p.m. from the McLeod Center.

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