EUREKA – The Eureka women's basketball team is off to a 3-0 start in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play for the first time in four years.
After keeping it close but playing from behind for most of the second half, the Red Devils shifted into another gear in the second half and notched an 87-68 victory over Spalding at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center on Tuesday.
"We started off kind of flat today, but we got into halftime, we got lit up and we talked it through," Eureka junior Olivia Falls (Bloomington, Ill./Blooming said. "We started driving and getting stops. We started playing our game and stopped playing their pace."
Falls tallied her third double-double of the season, finishing with a season-high 17 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 6 of 13 from the field and going 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. Junior guard Shakaya Rogers (Hanover, Mich./Concord) came off the bench and posted a team-high and a season-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Alaina Vance (Camp Point, Ill./Central) racked up 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting while hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers and dishing six assists for the second straight game.
Abby Stotler (Wyoming, Ill./Stark County) and Whitney Bozarth (Normal, Ill./Normal West) each added 11, while Marissa Murphy (Canton, Ill./Canton) contributed 10. Stotler and Murphy each gathered seven rebounds and Bozarth followed with six.
This was the first game of the spring that Eureka has finished with all five starters in double figures.
Spalding came out of the gate hot, taking a 26-23 lead into the second quarter after shooting 63.2 percent in the first. In the second quarter, Eureka managed to stay on their heels despite shooting 4-for-17 from the field.
The Red Devils went into halftime down four points and came out a different team. The team outscored the Golden Eagles 27-19 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
It took a few minutes for the Red Devils to get going. But once they did, EC started playing more disciplined defense and getting stops. On the other end of the court, EC took better care of the ball, attacked the basket and showed more creativity in the flow of the game. It led to prettier passing and easier baskets.
"When we get like that, it's like the game's so much easier," Rogers said. "We're not scrambling or getting into panic mode. We're just playing as one."
The Red Devils chipped away at the lead until a layup by Murphy off an assist by Falls gave EC a 52-51 edge with 3:28 left in the third frame. A Rogers layup off a Vance dish made it 54-51 with three minutes remaining, and after Spalding answered, Falls scored off a feed by Vance, drew the foul and knocked down the free throw to make it 57-53.
A 3-pointer by Spalding's Natalie Fichter with under a minute left in the third tied the game, but two possessions later Bozarth found Murphy for two to put EC back on top.The Red Devils never trailed the rest of the way.
EC racked up 24 points while going 8 of 16 from the floor, hitting three 3s and outrebounding the visitors by eight in the fourth quarter to put the team away. The Red Devils held Spalding scoreless for the last 4 ½ minutes of the game and stretched the lead to 19 before the final horn.
Spalding's Hunter Wright scored a game-high 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 10 rebounds and three 3s. Natalie Fichter added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Kailey Reed chipped in with 10.
With the win, Eureka improved to 4-2 on the season. The Red Devils will face Spalding (1-3, 1-3 SLIAC) again on Saturday on the road at 1 p.m.
"It feels great to have a winning record." Falls said. "We're all coming together, we're talking more and the more we're playing together, we're realizing our style."