NORMAL, Ill. – The Butler women’s basketball team saw its season come to a close Wednesday night in a 57-54 loss at Missouri Valley Conference champion Illinois State in the WNIT. The Bulldogs finish the year with a 23-10 record and their second consecutive season playing in the postseason.
Senior Melanie Thornton led BU with a career-high 25 points, 15 rebounds and three steals. Junior Brittany Bowen added 14 points.
ISU had the ball up 55-52 when BU got a stop and sophomore Devin Brierly dribbled the ball the length of the court for a lay-up to pull Butler to make it 55-54 with 26.4 seconds left. Butler had to foul and Maggie Krick made two free throws to put the RedBirds ahead 57-54 with 15 seconds to play. Junior Alyssa Pittman got two 3-pointers off but both hit the rim and fell to the floor as time expired.
“It’s playoff basketball and it was a great game,” head coach Beth Couture said. “I give Illinois State a lot of credit. They made shots in the first half. In the second half, we were more aggressive and at the end of the game we had two good looks by the player we want to have the ball at the end of the game.”
Illinois State (25-7) advances to the second round to face Purdue. ISU was led by Ashleen Bracey’s 15 points and 13 rebounds. Nicolle Lewis, ISU’s 6-foot-6 center, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Butler trailed most of the second half, but went on a big run late. A 3 by senior Susan Lester and a bucket and free throws by Thornton got the Bulldogs within 53-50 with 2:09 to play. BU got a stop and a good at a 3-pointer but missed. Illinois State answered with a lay-up to go up 55-50 with 59 seconds remaining.
“I’m proud of our team. I thought we fought,” Couture said. “In the second half we needed to pick up our defense to get our offense going.”
Butler led for the first 13:10 of the game, getting out to a 10-4 lead. BU led 15-12 at the 7:41 mark of the first half before Bracey keyed a 14-0 run with eight points. Butler went exactly 5:00 without scoring during that run.
Illinois State controlled the rest of the half and took a 33-23 lead into halftime. The RedBirds led by as many as 48-33 in the second half until a 7-0 run keyed by a trey by Bowen pulled the Dogs to within 48-40 with 7:22 to play. A pair of free throws by Thornton with 5:10 left got Butler within 50-44.
NOTES: Butler’s 23-10 record marks the team’s most wins since the 97-98 season (25-6)...Butler falls to 3-7 all-time in postseason play. BU was making its fourth WNIT appearance in program history…The decisive stretch in the game came between the 7:41 and 1:54 marks, during which ISU outscored BU 19-5…Seniors Melanie Thornton and Susan Lester finished their careers with a four-year record of 79-47. For her career, Lester finishes with 1,275 points, 781 rebounds, 139 3-pointers made and 155 steals. Thornton finishes with 954 points, 631 rebounds, 164 steals and 126 blocked shots. Senior Amie Kabara finishes her BU career having been on teams that went 63-32.