Candace Sykes had a career-high five blocks against the Panthers. (Photo Courtesy GoRedbirds.com)
By WJBC Staff
NORMAL - A pair of double-doubles from Janae Smith and Candace Sykes, combined with a stout defensive effort, led the Illinois State (8-4, 1-0 MVC) women’s basketball team to a 72-41 victory over Northern Iowa (5-7, 0-1 MVC), in both teams’ Missouri Valley Conference opener Friday night at Redbird Arena.
Smith reached double-digits in points and rebounds for the fifth time on the campaign, as she poured in a game-high 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, to go along with 12 rebounds. Sykes earned her second double-double of the year, tallying 20 points, while going 8-for-15 from the field and 4-for-8 beyond the three-point line. She also pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked a career-high five shots.
The Redbirds scored four of the game’s first six points, but the Panthers rebounded from the deficit with seven-straight to go up 9-4 at the 14:55 mark of the first half. A three and a half minute ISU scoring drought was broken when Jamie Russell put back her own miss for her first points of the game. The Redbirds proceeded to score the game’s next 11 points, on baskets by Russell, Maddie Oliver, Sykes, and Smith, to go up 17-9 with 10:29 left in the half. ISU’s defense clamped down during the 13-0 run, keeping the Panthers scoreless for nearly five minutes.
The two teams traded buckets before Sykes hit her second three-pointer of the game to give ISU a double-digit lead, 22-11, at the 8:56 mark. Two free throws from Smith extended the lead to 13, their largest of the first half. The Panthers chipped away at the ISU advantage for the next six minutes, pulling within seven at 28-21 with 2:46 left in the half. The squads went back and forth for a minute and a half before Smith scored the period’s final four points, on a layup and two free throws, to give the Redbirds a 37-26 halftime edge.
The Redbirds steadily increased their lead throughout the first 11 minutes of the second half. After the teams traded buckets to start the period, Brianna Puni converted a three-point play at the 17:07 mark to give the Redbirds a 42-28 lead. Chloe Nelson got in the scoring column after a steal and fast break layup to put the Redbirds up by 15, 45-30, with 14 minutes remaining. The Panthers scored five-straight to climb back within 10, but ISU responded with eight-straight of their own, six from Smith and two from Russell, to grab an 18-point lead, 53-35, with 9:07 left. During the 8-0 run, ISU held UNI to 0-for-4 from the floor, and scoreless for more than four minutes.
Sykes went on a personal 10-2 run over the Panthers during the next five-plus minutes, hitting two treys and a pair of two-point jumpers during the stretch. Sykes’ spurt was part of a game-closing 19-6 Redbird run, giving them the 72-41 victory.
The Redbirds return to Doug Collins Court Sunday against in-state foe Bradley. Tipoff is set for 2:05 p.m. Listen on WJBC AM 1230 and FM 93.7.