In its first game on campus since 2000, the University of Evansville women’s basketball team used a quick start and held on late for an 89-81 season-opening victory over Murray State on Saturday afternoon in Meeks Family Fieldhouse.
The win is the Aces seventh season-opening win in the past 11 years and the 27th win in an opener overall for Evansville.
“Once we hit a couple of shots, this crowd helped those nerves go away,” said Aces head coach Matt Ruffing. “What a big energy and help this crowd was. I told the girls before the game “give them something to cheer about and they’ll take us to the next level” and I thought that’s what happened. We’re just really happy for our kids. We’ve put in a lot of work and there’s a lot of unknowns with this group that we have, but I’m hoping that getting this win early and having a lot of film we can watch and get better and I’m hoping their confidence grows within each other and then within our system.”
Graduate Hannah Noe led the way for the Aces with a career-high 33 points, hitting six three-pointers in the win. Junior Kerri Gasper chipped in 16 points, while fellow junior recorded a double-double of 12 points and 10 boards in her first game as an Ace. As a team, the Aces shot 48.1% (26-64) from the field and 42.9% (9-21) from deep. Evansville was 28-of-32 (87.5%) from the charity stripe, its most made free throws since hitting 33 against Indiana State on January 27, 2015.
Building off the momentum of the crowd, the Aces raced out to a 10-4 lead just three minutes into the contest on a bucket and a free throw and a three-pointer by Noe. Evansville continued to extend its lead through the opening quarter as the Aces owned a 31-14 advantage after the first 10 minutes, led by Noe’s 14 points. In the first quarter, the Aces shot 12-18 (66.7%) from the field and 5-6 (83.3%) from three, while holding the Racers to a 6-of-16 (37.5%) shooting performance.
The second quarter saw the Aces maintain its double-digit advantage. The lead ballooned as high as 22 for the Aces after sophomore Kaylan Coffman hit the front end of a pair of free throw shots to push Evansville ahead 47-25 with 2:43 remaining in the half. As the half waned to a close, Murray State chipped away slightly at the Aces’ lead, giving UE a 51-33 lead at the break.
In the opening minutes of the third, the Racers went to work trying to trim the Aces’ lead. A three by Bria Bethea cut UE’s lead to 13 at 58-45, but Evansville responded with an 8-2 run to push its edge back to 19 at 66-47 with just two minutes left in the quarter. After the Racers again got within 12, the Aces converted four straight free throws at the line in the closing seconds of the period to enter the final quarter with a 70-54 lead.
The Aces were presented one last test to open the fourth frame, as the Racers amassed a 12-2 run to cut UE’s advantage to just six at 72-66 with 5:34 left to play. As was true all afternoon, Noe responded with a pair of free throws and a three to give Evansville a seven-point edge with 3:49 remaining on the clock.
The Racers, though, would once again have an answer as Ke’Shunan James laid one in off the glass to push Murray State within five at 78-73. In the late stages of the game, sophomore Macie Lively came up big as the Tipton, Ind. native stepped to the line three-straight times and knocked-down all six free throws as Evansville held on for an 89-81 victory.
UE sets off for its first road game of the season as the Aces take on Alabama A&M on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Normal, Alabama.