USI Women’s Basketball brings home OVC regular season crown

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MOREHEAD, Ky. – In only the second season since making the jump to NCAA Division I and joining the Ohio Valley Conference, University of Southern Indiana Women’s Basketball claimed the outright 2023-24 Ohio Valley Conference regular season title Tuesday night following a 72-64 road win at Morehead State University.
 
After missing out on the OVC Tournament in their inaugural season in 2022-23, the Screaming Eagles accomplished in 2023-24 what only one other women’s basketball program has achieved in recent years – win a conference title during a reclassification period. The last women’s basketball program to win a conference title during a reclassification period was California Baptist University in 2020-21. The Lancers won the Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships.
 
Tuesday was Southern Indiana’s (19-6, 14-1) fifth win in a row, as USI has won 15 of its last 16 contests. The Screaming Eagles entered Tuesday with a share of the OVC regular season title and the No. 1 seed in next month’s OVC Tournament already clinched. However, USI went to Morehead State looking to claim the outright OVC crown.
 
Southern Indiana got off to another good start to open Tuesday’s game at Morehead State. Within the first two minutes, sophomore guard Ali Saunders (Depauw, Indiana) capitalized on a three-point play. Saunders was named OVC Player and Newcomer of the Week on Tuesday morning. With USI leading 7-5 three minutes into the contest, the Screaming Eagles took off on a big run. USI scored 11 straight points over five minutes to jump ahead 18-5, as senior forward Meredith Raley (Haubstadt, Indiana) scored six of those 11 points. Raley tallied eight first-quarter points, helping USI shoot over 50 percent in the opening period and grab a 22-9 lead through one.
 
Midway into the second quarter, Southern Indiana pushed its advantage to 14, 31-17, after a three-pointer from Saunders. Then the Screaming Eagles’ offense ran into a cold spell from the field. Southern Indiana went three minutes scoreless before a couple of made free throws by freshman forward Chloe Gannon (Manchester, Tennessee). Meanwhile, Morehead State closed into USI’s lead, cutting the deficit down to five, 33-28, at halftime. The Screaming Eagles went without a field goal for the last 4:48 of the first half.
 
Out of the intermission, Southern Indiana made an emphasis on going inside. Back-to-back baskets from senior forward Madi Webb (Bedford, Indiana) and then consecutive buckets by Gannon helped USI build its lead back to double digits, 45-34, by the halfway point of the third quarter. Webb and Gannon continued to feast in the paint, while USI’s defense held Morehead State scoreless for nearly three minutes. Webb poured in 10 third-quarter points. Southern Indiana took a 51-42 lead to the fourth period.
 
The Screaming Eagles opened the fourth frame with back-to-back triples by junior guard Vanessa Shafford (Linton, Indiana) and Raley. Later in the fourth, Southern Indiana and Morehead State picked up the pace, exchanging baskets. With 2:36 left, freshman guard Triniti Ralston (Louisville, Kentucky) swished a three-pointer to put USI up 12, 68-56. Morehead State continued to fight, pulling within six points, but USI connected on late free throws to seal the win and the 2023-24 OVC regular season title.
 
Southern Indiana was 27-60 for 45 percent from the floor Tuesday evening, hitting five threes. USI was 13-21 for 62 percent at the charity stripe. Southern Indiana had a season-low nine turnovers and 42 points in the paint. The Screaming Eagles had five players in double figures for the first time since December 2022. Webb and Gannon each had 14 points, Saunders and Raley each chipped in 13, and Ralston tallied a career-high 10 points.
 
Morehead State, who was looking to keep pace for the potential No. 2 seed, dropped to 8-7 in conference play and 13-13 overall. Morehead State went 25-62 for 40 percent in overall shooting, cashing in seven triples. The host Eagles were 7-12 for 58 percent at the foul line. Morehead State won the rebounding battle, 44-34. Junior guard Matilda Soderlund led Morehead State in scoring with 23 points.
 
USI is set to travel to Macomb, Illinois on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tilt against Western Illinois University to conclude the four-game road swing. A win on Saturday would give USI its 14th 20-win season and first since 2021-22. Saturday’s game can be seen live with a subscription to ESPN+ and heard on 95.7 FM The Spin (http://957thespin.com).