Leathernecks’ Improvement Shows Up In Win Over Bison

By John Bohnenkamp

JD Gravina saw progress in his Western Illinois women’s basketball team, even if it didn’t show up in the Leathernecks’ record.

It showed up on Saturday in the Summit League season opener against North Dakota State.

The Leathernecks won, 77-65 — a victory, Gravina said, that had been building for a while.

“When you improve, you have to have the success to go along with it,” Gravina said.

Western Illinois opened the season 1-7, with the only victory coming at Bellarmine on Dec. 19. Five of their losses were by double digits, but that didn’t mean the Leathernecks weren’t getting better.

“It was nice to see it come together,” said guard Grace Gilmore, who scored 14 points.

“When you win, you feel good about what you’re doing,” said forward Evan Zars, who had 16 points.

North Dakota State (5-2 overall, 0-1 Summit League) had two wins over Green Bay and a win each over Northern Iowa and Kansas to start the season.

But the Leathernecks struck early. They built a 29-17 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by as much as 28 points in the second half before the Bison rallied.

“I think (the start) set a tone for us,” Zars said.

“We were able to take them out of their game early,” Gravina said.

Western Illinois held the Bison to just 8-of-31 shooting in the second half, which was important because the Leathernecks were just 5-of-26 from the field.

“We’re getting better defensively,” Gravina said.

It was the first of a weekend doubleheader for the two teams under the Summit League’s scheduling format this season of back-to-back games to reduce travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Gravina said. “Some will over-adjust, some will under-adjust.

“This game was hugely important for us. We needed to have that success.”

Photo: Western Illinois’ Grace Gilmore drives to the basket during Saturday’s win over North Dakota State. (Sarah Ritter/Western Illinois University)

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