CHARLESTON -- For a half, the Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team seemed to revert to some old tendencies from the last couple of seasons. That allowed Rose-Hulman, an NCAA Division III school, to take a halftime lead against EIU.
Even though Monday’s contest at Lantz Arena was an exhibition game and doesn’t count toward the official record, a loss to Rose-Hulman would’ve been a major step back after the Panthers put together an impressive showing against Indiana State in an exhibition game last Friday.
EIU was able to avoid the upset and played like a different team in the second half compared to the first. The Panthers took control of Rose-Hulman, which made the D-III tournament last season, in the third quarter and went on to pick up a 73-58 exhibition game on Monday.
“We can’t change the first half, we played a miserable first half, that’s gone,” EIU coach Matt Bollant said. “We had a terrible third quarter (Friday) and (I told them) let’s have this be our best quarter. It was our best quarter. We outscored them 24-11.”
EIU’s impressive third quarter gave the Panthers a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter. The Panthers shot 52 percent in the second half and had nine assists.
“We did a better job of making the easy pass. I think, we got to a good start and felt like it would be easy but then it wasn’t easy and then we were a little shocked,” Bollant said. “We tried to do it ourselves a little bit. In the second half, we ran the offense and let it come to use a little bit and it led to better shots.”
EIU sophomore forward Jennifer Nehls said the team didn’t give Rose-Hulman enough respect to start with.
“We didn’t keep our discipline in the first half. We know they are a D-III school and we are suppose to be better than them,” Nehls said. “But that’s not the mindset we need to have. We have to come in with a disciplined mindset and respect everyone equally and play our hardest no matter what.
“The first half, we didn’t do that. We came out lackadaisy. In the second half we picked it up.”
The Panthers started off hot with a Grace Lennox layup and a steal and layup by Carmen Tellez for a 4-0 lead. EIU stretched its lead to 12-3 after a 3-pointer by Lennox.
Then EIU struggled offensively for the rest of the half and Rose-Hulman started to give the Panthers a game. A 15-4 run by the Fightin’ Engineers gave them an 18-16 lead. Lennox made a couple of free throws to tie it, but Abby Bromenschenkel’s shot right before the buzzer gave Rose-Hulman a 20-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Jennifer Nehls hit a 3-pointer to give EIU the lead back. Grace McRae added a layup and Lennox hit a shot from behind the arc to attempt to get the Panthers offense back on track with a 26-21 lead with 6:30 left before the half.
The Panthers only managed to score five more points in the half, though. Rose-Hulman went on a 7-0 run for a 28-26 lead when McRae made a layup to tie the game at 28 with 1:30 left in the half. But back-to-back buckets gave the Fightin’ Engineers a 32-28 lead.
Taylor Steele hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, but Ally Bromenschenkel hit a jumper right before the buzzer to give the D-III team the halftime lead at 34-31.
“Probably the biggest thing, we have to be more disciplined on the ball,” Bollant said. “(Rose-Hulman) was really patient with the ball and we started pressuring them and we would get out of our stance and they would get by us. Then they would get really good shots and offensive rebounds.”
Nehls hit a 3-pointer to help spark EIU’s offense to start the third quarter. The Panthers wound up going on a 15-5 run and Nehls scored 13 of those points. Nehls hit three 3-pointers during the run for a 46-41 lead.
“It seemed like we needed to get something going so I just let it fly,” Nehls said. “I just felt on fire I guess. It’s a good feeling (to have the green light). He trusts us and knows we are versatile players that can shoot the three or drive or have a good pass. It’s a good feeling that we aren’t limited in that way at all.”
EIU added another run, this one a 6-0 spurt, to take a 55-45 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Panthers went up by 16 points at 65-49 when Rose-Hulman cut it to 10 points at 66-56.
EIU made a few free throws to get the lead back to double-digits and went on to win 73-58.