Late free throws from sophomore forward Abby O’Connor were the difference as the Loyola women’s basketball team (9-7, 3-2) held on to defeat Indiana State University 56-54 at Gentile Arena Sunday afternoon.
O’Connor led Loyola with 18 points, including six straight free throws in the last 20 seconds of regulation. She now leads the Missouri Valley Conference in free-throw percentage, converting 43 of her 45 attempts from the strip this year — a 95.6 percent clip. First-year guard Janae Gonzales added 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, while first-year forward Allison Day scored 10 points and tied her season high with nine rebounds.
After the game, O’Connor said she felt comfortable knowing Loyola had a lead each time she went to the line and thought she was well-prepared for hitting the key foul shots given how close the game was.
“We were in the lead, we had control,” O’Connor said. “We don’t need to be frantic with the ball, we’ve been here and we’ve practiced these situations.”
Both teams got off to slow starts offensively — Loyola shot 5-for-13 in the first quarter compared to Indiana State’s 3-for-11 shooting. The Ramblers took an early 11-9 lead after Day sank a jumper with 26 seconds left in the quarter.
Gonzales shot 4-for-5 in the first half, including 3-for-4 from three-point territory, to help the Ramblers carry a 28-16 advantage into the break. Indiana State was able to mount a comeback and shorten Loyola’s lead to just 6 points in the third quarter and outscored the Ramblers 38-28 in the last two quarters, but Loyola held on just enough to come out on top.
Indiana State falls to 9-8 overall and 3-3 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play with the loss. The Sycamores, who were picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll, shot just 5-for-24 in the first half before going 14-for-31 from the field in the last 20 minutes to close the gap.
The victory gave the Ramblers their first two-win weekend since head coach Kate Achter took over as head coach in 2016, which O’Connor said was made even more special since they struggled against Indiana State last season, falling to the Sycamores both times they played each other.
“That’s something that I’ve never been able to do here at my time at Loyola,” O’Connor said. “This is huge for us, especially getting this win against Indiana State. They were somebody we really struggled with last year.
Achter said she challenged her players to be more focused on their approach after a messier win over University of Evansville Jan. 18, and they did exactly what she asked of them.
“They handled their business,” Achter said. “Their late game composure was very good for such a young group. I’m ecstatic for our kids.”
The Ramblers are set to take on Missouri State University Jan. 25 in Springfield, Missouri. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.