WNIT First Round
Colorado State 67, Western Illinois 64
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (goleathernecks.com) -- Western Illinois fell in a heartbreaker, 67-64 at Colorado State in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament Thursday night (March 15).
The Leathernecks cap off a memorable season at 22-10 and it also marked the final game for seniors Emily Clemens,Morgan Blumer, Olivia Braun, Michelle Farrow and Krishna Merriman.
"It was a tough way to end the season, but that's how endings usually go," said head coach JD Gravina. "I thought we played well enough to win and our effort was definitely there. I'm so proud of this group and what they have accomplished over the past two seasons."
Both teams traded baskets until the final minute, when the Rams took a 63-62 lead with 1:12 to go. On the ensuing possession, Western Illinois went back up by one after Higginbotham hit a pair from the line.
A Colorado State layup made it a 65-64 Leatherneck deficit. With 24 seconds to go, Olivia Kaufman was fouled, but missed both free throws. The Leathernecks eventually went down three with eight seconds to go and time to run one more play.
Olivia Braun had an open look from beyond the arc to tie it, but the shot fell short as time expired.
Western Illinois fell behind by seven in the early-going of the first quarter, but the Leathernecks were able to cut the deficit to just two after a Taylor Higginbotham buzzer-beating three at the end of the quarter.
The Purple and Gold sparked a 14-2 run and led by as many as 13 (30-17) with 3:47 to go after Michelle Farrow netted her 10th point off a shot buried from downtown and an Olivia Braun 17-foot jumper. The Rams, however, were able to cut the Leatherneck lead to seven at the half.
Colorado State opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run to cut the Leatherneck deficit to one at the 7:53 mark. After a timeout by Gravina, the Leathernecks responded with a 10-0 run off back-to-back and-1's by Higginbotham. After three, Western Illinois hung on to a 5-point lead.
The Leathernecks went back up by six after Blumer netted a pair of free throws for her 1,000th career point. With 5:20 to go, the Rams eventually regained a 1-point lead (55-54) to force a Leatherneck timeout. Over the final quarter, the Leathernecks were outscored 27-18 to fall by three.
Higginbotham finished with a team-high 17 points, while Michelle Farrow followed with 14 points. Clemens totaled 11 points and six assists, while Kaufman rounded out the double-digit scoring with 10.
Blumer's three points gave her exactly 1,000 for her Leatherneck career, as she becomes the fastest player in program history to ever reach the mark. She also became the third-active player on the Leathernecks with the milestone, joining Clemens and Higginbotham.
Western Illinois' senior class caps off their careers with three straight postseason appearances (WBI, NCAA, WNIT). Those appearances also mark three of the six in the history of the program.
ABOUT SUMMIT LEAGUE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Through 35 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League features women's basketball teams from eight member institutions: Denver, Fort Wayne, North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois with North Dakota becoming an official member for the 2018-19 season. In 2016-17, The Summit League raised its RPI for the third consecutive year, finishing with an all-time best No. 11 ranking. The Summit League has sent at least three teams to the postseason nine straight years with three postseason tournament semifinal appearances the last four years, while recording the nation's best Division I winning percentage improvement since 2009-10. Called "March's Best-Kept Secret" by USA Today, The Summit League Basketball Championships annually ranks as one of the most attended Division I conference tournaments. This season's event returns to the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., March 3-6, 2018. For more information about the league, "See The Summit" by visiting www.thesummitleague.org and following Summit League Basketball on Twitter @summithoops.