by Kristin Haseley
The IUPUI women’s basketball team took the first step forward in the Summit League Tournament on Sunday afternoon as they downed the North Dakota State Bison by a score of 80-64. The game was a rematch from only six days ago when the Bison defeated the Jaguars on a last second buzzer-beater.
Sunday’s victory was a full team effort as the Jaguar’s leading scorer, Kerah Nelson, remained without a point for the first 30 minutes of play. Nelson’s absence was replaced by a Jaguar performance that featured four players in double digit scoring.
The Jag’s came out looking ready to play while wearing their away black uniforms. IUPUI scored the first points of the game, but the Bison quickly countered going on a 7-0 run. The run was snapped when sophomore Katie Comello hit a three point basket and scored her first points of the afternoon. Despite IUPUI playing the suffocating defense that the Jags are known for, the Bison were still able to find success against the Jaguars early, opening the lead up to a 12-5 margin.
“Since we hadn’t been here in three years I think we wanted to do so well at the beginning of the game that we made some mistakes,” IUPUI head coach Austin Parkinson said of their early struggles.
Despite being down seven points the Jaguars never panicked, looking to their bench to find a spark. Freshman Nevena Markovic soon entered for IUPUI and scored seven first half points, including an impressive mid-range jumper followed by a three pointer the next trip down the court.
“Markovic was big for us, she got us 15 points and was an inside-outside threat, which turned out being huge,” Parkinson mentioned.
Another bench player that contributed to the victory was senior Janna Eichelberger. Despite only averaging 3.3 points per game this season, Eichelberger came off the bench and played big minutes in the absence of regular starter DeeDee Bellamy. Eichelberger finished the afternoon with eight points, seven rebounds, and two steals. Eichelberger is the only member of the team that had been to the conference tournament previous to this year.
“Being here my freshman year and then coming back senior year, it’s important to get it done,” Eichelberger said following the victory.
Although there was still 20 minutes of basketball left to play, the game took a definitive momentum switch at the end of the first half. With 30 seconds left in the half Emily Phillips hit a long three pointer off the assist by Comello. After a missed NDSU attempt by Alisa Brown, Phillips carried the ball down the court and hit a one-handed three point attempt as the buzzer sounded, giving the Jaguars a 12 point lead going into the half.
“Those two plays gave us some momentum going into halftime. So it was big for us to carry that into the second half,” Comello said.
The Jaguars refused to look back in the second half, never letting their lead get below eight points. Nelson’s first points of the game finally came with 8:16 remaining in the second half. Despite a lackluster scoring effort, Nelson was able to contribute on the boards, leading the Jags with 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Dawn Luster contributed 16 points in the win, while Phillips led the scoring for IUPUI with 17 points. Comello had a game-high six assists to go along with her 10 points.
The offensive game plan for the Bison came crashing down as they shot only 29% from the field.
“We did everything we were supposed to in that game. We got the shots, got the offensive rebounds, got the ball into the kids we needed to get the ball to, and the shots just didn’t fall for us,” NDSU head coach Carolyn DeHoff said.
Next up for the Jaguars will be a tough contest against the number one seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits defeated IPFW on Saturday afternoon by a score of 80-59 to advance into the next round.
“They’re a very good basketball team. The one thing I like about this match-up for us is that our kids are pumped to play. I would hate to be a group of South Dakota State players being expected to win this thing and having to face us,” Parkinson said of looming match up.
The game will take place Monday, March 5 with tip-off at Noon central time.