TERRE HAUTE —
A crowd of 2,668 fans might have left Hulman Center wondering what just happened Friday night. The Indiana State women’s basketball team had the best defensive half of the Teri Moren era.
Yes, it’s only her third year as head coach, but the Sycamores held a veteran team to nine points in the opening half. The visiting Panthers, who won 22 games last winter and return 11 players from that squad, managed only four field goals in the first 20 minutes.
The Sycamores' 69-39 victory was the largest margin of victory for ISU since Moren arrived in Terre Haute, the closest being an 80-51 win over Illinois State in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament in 2011. Prior to Moren, ISU beat Southeast Missouri State by a score of 72-28 in 2009 for one of the biggest margins in school history. SEMO scored just 10 in the first half of that game.
This game was also about defensive dominance, but it was against a team that ranked 27th in the NCAA last year with an average of 71.1 points.
Taylor Whitley had four of ISU’s eight first-half steals. ISU was relentless to the intermission buzzer, Jessica Valley capping the half with a drive down the lane and layup just before the horn to make it 36-9.
“Great first win for us. … in particular our defense stood out in the first half. That’s a great first half of basketball,” Moren said. “Transition defense was our No. 1 key as we started. Just sound for that first 20 minutes. Can’t tell you how proud I am of not just our defensive effort, but we outrebounded. Just a great night for the Sycamores.”
Whitley, the Sycamores’ only senior who had to miss a big chunk of the beginning her junior year, definitely enjoyed getting her final ISU season off to a special beginning. Whitley posted 14 points, five assists, six rebounds and four steals.
What she liked was the relentless defense of her teammates that helped the Sycamores take EIU point guard Ta’Kenya Nixon out of the game early. Nixon put up 20 on ISU in a 75-60 defeat of the Sycamores last season.
“It was a great, great team win,” Whitley said. “It was an awesome feeling. We weren’t just playing basketball, we were having fun out there.”
Eastern Illinois coach Lee Buchanan was definitely impressed.
“They whooped us. They play hard. Teri has them playing hard. They got under Ta’Kenya and made her pass a lot in the first half,” Buchanan said. “Whitley makes them go. She’s their motor.”
Speaking of a motor, Valley had a non-stop motor for the Sycamores on the glass. She was outstanding in her first start in ISU’s power forward role. The 5-foot-9 sophomore used her quickness and athleticism to pull down 12 rebounds, sparking the Sycamores to a 47-31 edge on the glass. Racheal Mahan added her first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“My role for this team is just to be that player that get rebounds and try and get the hustle plays,” Valley said. “It just came easy.”
Moren wasn’t surprised by Valley’s success in that role as a do-it-all player for the Sycamores. Valley had four assists, two steals and a block to go with her 12 rebounds.
“As long as you can embrace whatever that role is, which she’s done, she’s going to find success, that’s just the kind of kid she is,” Moren said. “I’d like her to be more consistent. We need her to score for us. She can extend the defense a little bit because she does have range. Jumping, getting off the floor, she’s going to be able to score on the inside and the outside.”
Travecia Franklin chipped in 12 points in 24 minutes off the bench, knocking down two jump shots with the shot clock winding down.
Anna Munn paced the Sycamores with 18 points to go with four assists, two blocks and a steal.
“We went out there and showed what our defense is made of,” Munn said. “Our focus after halftime was not letting up and giving them any momentum. We overcame that lull or whatever so we did a pretty good job of that.”