Nichols Continues Hot Start in Home Opener Win

MACOMB, Ill. – After opening the 2021-22 campaign on the road, Western Illinois women’s basketball (2-1, 0-0) confidently entered its first home showing of the regular season on Wednesday (Nov. 17). Facing a scrappy Chicago State (0-3, 0-0) squad, things were tight early on, but Western settled into a groove to comfortably pull away, 77-50.

“After starting slow and then gaining a big lead, I think we became a bit too comfortable,” acknowledged head women’s basketball coach JD Gravina. “They (Chicago State) honestly did a great job of pressuring us more. In the second half, we did a better job of being stronger with the ball and not backing down. Our bigs also helped with our spacing on the court.”

CSU picked up steals early on, as WIU started with four turnovers while holding a narrow 7-6 lead. Mallory McDermott and Kennedy Flanagan checked in to net a couple of three-pointers, beginning a 12-3 push for the Leathernecks. Another trey ball from McDermott, followed by a steal and finish by Elizabeth Lutz, saw Western sitting at a 25-9 advantage at the end of the first.

As a few minutes passed by in the second period, WIU stretched its lead to 30-13 before CSU turned up its aggression on both ends. The Cougars put together a 17-5 surge in the quarter’s final 6.5 minutes, cutting the deficit to 35-30 before the halftime buzzer rang. Western only shot 20% from the field in the quarter for ten points. Danni Nichols led all scorers with 10 points during the first 20 minutes.

The third quarter started as a defensive frame for a bit before WIU began to turn up its offensive game. Nichols acted as the main anchor, totaling eight points in the period and increasing the margin to a 17-point game at one moment. Additionally, the Leathernecks forced six turnovers from the Cougars. Leading 54-37, WIU’s confidence again appeared evident as the final 10 minutes opened up. Several different players scored as the clock continued to tick down, and a nice hookup from Evan Zars to Samantha Pryor in the paint had Western up big, 69-42. Buckets from Anna Deets put the finishing touches on a 77-50 decision.

McDermott achieved a new career-high in points for the second straight contest — going for 13 on 3-6 three-point shooting. The night was also a spotlight for Flanagan, who posted an impressive performance of 13 points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes of play. The fellow sophomore made three of five attempts from downtown.

“Everyone knows how important it is to seize every opportunity,” said Flanagan. “I personally feel my teammates make me look good often by how easily they set me to get open for shots.”

Nichols again showed out offensively, racking up 23 points to lead all individuals. She has been a game-leading scorer in all three of WIU’s contests thus far. The senior also added five rebounds and two steals. Zars again just missed out on a double-double, as the forward scored nine points and grabbed a game-high ten rebounds. Lutz dished out five assists. WIU shot over 46% from the floor as a team while making 22 free throws compared to CSU’s seven.

“I think tonight was good preparation for league play,” added Flanagan. “There are plenty of scrappy teams like that who we’ll come across.”

A pair of additional home games are next on Western’s radar, beginning with a Saturday (Nov. 20) hosting of Bellarmine at 6 p.m. CT.


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