In the opening semifinal of the Little Caesars Horizon League Women’s Basketball Championship, it was the No. 1 seed Wright State Raiders advancing to the tournament finals with a 60-51 victory over the No. 4 seed IUPUI Jaguars.
The first quarter was defined by Wright State’s stifling team defense. The conference champion Raiders kept IUPUI without a basket for almost seven minutes to open the game.
The Jaguars were rescued by a pair of 3-pointers from super-sub Sydney Roule. The issue for Austin Parkinson’s team — Roule was the only player to make a shot in the opening period. The sophomore guard was 2-of-2 while the rest of the Jaguars missed all 13 of their attempts.
After one quarter of play, the Raiders led 12-7, helped by a buzzer-beating runner off the glass from Horizon League All-Freshman guard Angel Baker.
League Player of the Year Macee Williams struggled out of the gate, missing on her first seven shots. She recovered to sink three in a row during the second quarter, keeping the Jaguars within striking distance.
Baker led all scorers with 10 first-half points. Symone Simmons and Tyler Frierson snapped up 11 combined rebounds. Horizon League All-Defensive selection Emily Vogelpohl provided a highlight with a leaping steal and save, leading to a Baker jumper on the other end.
The teams headed for the halftime break with the Raiders ahead 28-16.
Holly Hoopingarner scored five straight for IUPUI in the third to slice the deficit to 32-26, but again it was freshman sensation Baker shifting the momentum back to the Raiders.
She calmly dropped in a short jumper and followed the next time down with a gorgeous no-look feed to Simmons, pushing the advantage back to double-digits.
Then Katrina Merriweather’s team went ice cold from the field. A scoring drought of over four minutes allowed the pesky Jaguars to run off 11 straight points. Sydney Hall buried a pair of triples during the surge and redshirt sophomore Katelyn O’Reilly wowed the Little Caesars Arena crowd with a coast-to-coast drive and finish to cut Wright State’s advantage down to a single point, 38-37.
“It says a lot about our team and the fight that we have,” said Hall, IUPUI’s senior guard. “I’m proud of that. I knew we would come back and rally together, so I’m proud of my girls for that.”
The regular-season champion Raiders needed a spark in the fourth quarter and it came in the form of Vogelpohl. The senior hit a jumper from the right wing and drilled a triple the next trip down to bump Wright State’s once tenuous advantage back to a more comfortable 45-39 lead.
“She’s kind of turned into a pass-first guard, but I think sometimes she needs to be reminded of how good a scorer she is,” Merriweather said.
The Jags refused to go away, using 3-pointers from Hoopingarner and Hall to draw to within 55-51. But in the key play of the game, Partlow hauled in a miss from Baker and put it back in, giving Wright State a six-point cushion and closing the door on IUPUI’s valiant comeback effort.
“They threw everything they had at us, but we knew if we could just withstand that run, bounce back, and go on a run ourselves, we’d be fine,” said Raiders’ senior and First-Team All-Horizon player Mackenzie Taylor.
The defensive presence of Frierson and Imani Partlow made things difficult for Williams all afternoon. The sensational sophomore post player converted a trio of buckets in the second quarter, but was blanked from the field in the other three. Williams finished with eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Wright State was paced by Taylor’s 15 points. Baker added 14 and Vogelpohl chipped in 10.
The Jaguars were led by Hall’s 12 points. Hoopingarner finished with 10.
But the shooting woes for IUPUI (29%) were too much to overcome.
“Our Achilles heel all year long has been our offense,” Parkinson said. “You look at our shooting percentage today. It’s happened three or four times this year where we just do not make shots and it puts a lot of heat on your defense.”
With the defeat, IUPUI’s record drops to 20-11.
With the victory, Wright State (26-6) advances to the Motor City Madness championship game Tuesday at 12:00 p.m. on ESPNU. The Raiders will meet Green Bay.