Second-half spree pushes Panthers past Aces

                                                                           Gasper scores team-high 16 points in loss

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Despite hanging with the Panthers for most of the opening half, the University of Evansville women’s basketball team saw UNI go on an 18-0 second-quarter run that gave the Panthers a double-digit lead for good in an 85-60 loss to UNI on Sunday afternoon inside Meeks Family Fieldhouse.

“We had a different game plan coming in for their defense and I thought it worked really well and spread them out. At the beginning, we couldn’t make the pass that we needed to make or the decision that we needed to make, but it was there,” said Aces head coach Matt Ruffing. “I thought we did a good job of attacking and then we just weren’t making that pass. I thought from a coaching standpoint and from a player standpoint, our kids did a good job of balancing out between their two defenses. Unfortunately, 23 of their 50 first-half points came off of turnovers and second-chance points. (Turnovers) are something as a coaching staff that we are going to have to address and whether its film or breakdowns in practice, that’s something that we are going to have to get better at.”

Junior guard Kerri Gasper continued her strong last few weeks of play with a team-high 16 points, chipping in five rebounds and three assists. Also finishing in double-figures for the Aces was redshirt sophomore guard Marley Miller who added 10 points, four rebounds, a pair of assists, and a steal. UNI was led by Nicole Kroeger’s game-high 19 points, while Ellie Howell added 17 points and Megan Maahs and Rose Simon-Ressler each added 10 points.

In the early going, Evansville kept pace with the Panthers matching UNI nearly bucket-for-bucket. The opening period featured five ties, including an 18-18 tie on a layup by freshman guard Kayla Casteel with 53 seconds left in the quarter. In the closing seconds of the first frame, Kroeger hit a three-pointer to provide the Panthers with a 21-18 advantage at the end of the opening 10 minutes.

The second quarter began much like the first quarter as Casteel hit drained a three-pointer to once again knot the contest at 21 less than a minute into the period. Over the next five minutes, the game was tied twice and the lead switched hands once. UNI increased its lead to four with 6:06 left in the frame before junior Kelsi Scott hit a pair of free throws to bring the Aces back within two at 32-30 with 4:13 remaining on the clock. Following Scott’s free throws, UNI rattled off an 18-0 run over the final 3:45 to take a 50-30 to the half.
Evansville looked to chip away at its deficit in the third quarter, but each time the Aces made up ground the Panthers seemed to have an answer. In the quarter, the Aces cut UNI’s lead as low as 18 twice, but each time the Panthers responded with a basket to push their lead back to 20. With just 26 seconds left in the third frame, Scott scored in the paint to trim UNI’s advantage back to 20 at 67-47 heading into the fourth quarter.

With 10 minutes left in regulation, the Aces mustered one final run at the Panthers. Trailing 69-52, Miller stepped to the charity stripe and split a pair for Evansville to push UE within 16 at 69-53 with 6:41. After the free throw, UNI increased its lead back to 23 just over two minutes later as the Panthers earned the 85-60 victory.

In the game, Evansville out-shot UNI, 44.7% (21-47) to 43.1% (31-72), but the Panthers capitalized on a 17-3 advantage on turnovers and scored 25 points on the Aces’ giveaways.

The Aces take to the road for a two-game road swing when Evansville travels to face Bradley on Friday at 7 p.m. in Peoria, Ill. before completing the Illinois road trip with a 1 p.m. contest on Sunday in Normal, Ill. against Illinois State.