Jacksonville, Il. – It had been ten days since the Westminster College women's basketball team had last seen game action, that didn't matter tonight. The Blue Jays used a hot shooting fourth quarter to fly by the Illinois College Lady Blues 85-76 to secure their first win of the season.
The first half was an up and down affair. Illinois College led by as many as seven and the Blue Jays by as many as six in the first half. The lead changed eight times in the first half.
The Blue Jays came out firing on all cylinders. Abbie Reece would account for five Blue Jay points, capped by her first made three of the game to stake the Jays to an 8-2 lead out of the tip. Illinois College would go on a run to tie the score at 8-8, before The Blue Jays would respond with a 5-0 run fueled by a Abby Nichols bucket and a transition layup by Avylina Powell-Qualo. The last basket started with a Powel-Qualo blocked shot and ended with her sprinting the floor for the layup off a nice pass by Abbie Reece to give the Blue Jays a 13-8 lead. Illinois College would respond with a 12-0 spurt that saw them take their biggest lead of the game at 20-13. After a timeout, the Blue Jays would close out the quarter on a 7-2 run capped by a Shelby Kurtz lay up that beat the first quarter buzzer to cut the Illinois College lead to 22-20.
The second quarter went back and forth with several lead changes. A conventional three point play by Reese Arnold gave Westminster its biggest lead of the quarter at 28-24. The Lady Blues would then go on an 11-1 run to take a 35-29 lead. An Abbie Reece three, lay up by Kurtz and two free throws by Arnold later and the Jays were back in front 36-35 with 2:31 to play in the half. The lead would change five times before halftime. The last lead change was off of a Powel-Qualo bucket that sent the Blue Jays to halftime with the 40-39 lead.
The third quarter saw ten lead changes as neither team led by more than one possession. With the Lady Blues leading 56-53 with 1:13 left in the quarter Arnold was fouled shooting a three. She calmly sunk all three free throws to tie the game. After a Blue Jay stop on the defensive end it was Corrie Reece who would drain a three to ensure that the Blue Jays would lead at the end of the third quarter 59-57.
The stage was set for a decisive fourth quarter. The Blue Jays would not disappoint, as they would use an 11-2 run to start the fourth to take their first double figure lead of the game at 70-59 with 5:42 remaining in the game. The run was fueled by three Arnold jumpers and two driving finishes by Powel-Qualo. Illinois College would have one last run in them as they trimmed Westminster's lead to just five points 70-65 with 4:06 left. Madison Schaeffer came through with ten foot turn around jumper that stopped the Lady Blues run. A couple stops and a couple more Abbie Reece three pointers staked the Blue Jays to their largest lead of the game at 78-66 with only 2:34 left and they would close the game out at the free throw line in route to a 85-76 first win of the young season.
The Blue Jays were led in scoring by Arnold with a game high 24. She was joined in double figures by Powel-Qualo with 15 and Abbie Reece with 14. The Blue Jays dominated the boards in the game as they outrebounded the Lady Blues 59-46. Madison Schaeffer led the way with 11 rebounds followed closely by senior Makayla Jackson with nine rebounds. Each of them recorded four offensive rebounds.
The Blue Jays barely outshot the Lady Blues for the game 40.9% to 40.8%. The difference maker was the scorching 61.5% the Blue Jays shot in the deciding fourth quarter where they outscored Illinois College 26-19 to take the win. The Blue Jays outshot the Lady Blues from the three-point line shooting 8-26 for 30.8% while holding Illinois College to 2-13 shooting for 15.4%. The Blue Jays also won the free throw battle outscoring the Lady Blues by seven from the charity stripe.
Head Coach Talisha Washington liked what she saw from her team. "Great road win for these ladies. We knew going in that we were going to have to battle to pull out this win. We did that, but most importantly we did that together." Said Washington. She also added, "We had big time players step up in the right moments and that was key going into the fourth quarter. Coach Washington finished by saying, "I'm proud of our performance, but we've got work to do in order to be better than we were tonight. I expect Thursday to be another battle."
It will be a quick turnaround for both the Blue Jays and the Lady Blues as the two teams will play each other again on Thursday night in Fulton, Mo., with a tip off time set for 7:30 p.m. This will be Westminster's home opener after two straight road games to open the season.