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College Sports

Women's basketball: Lewis defense stifles USF as Quigley Smith, Ekhomu return

Lewis defense stifles USF as Quigley Smith, Ekhomu return

JOLIET – A head coach and two of her assistants.

A player last season, an assistant coach this season.

And a guard who returned home and had a big first half.

All of the above have been on the winning side in each of the last two women’s basketball games between neighborhood rivals Lewis and St. Francis.

Funny how things work out sometime.

Samantha Quigley Smith, who led USF to an 80-69 victory over Lewis, an undefeated regular season and an NAIA National Tournament final four appearance last season, brought her Lewis Flyers into the Sullivan Center on the St. Francis campus for the nonconference matchup Tuesday night and left with a 59-46 victory.

And emotionally drained.

Her assistant coaches are Dan McCarthy and Michael Delrose, her former assistants with the Saints. The other Lewis assistant is Charnelle Reed, the Saints’ leading scorer the last two seasons.

That guard who scored all 10 of her points to help the Flyers (6-3) built a 31-18 halftime lead is senior Chrissi Ekhomu.

Old home week, and then some.

“It was a little stressful,” Quigley Smith said. “All the great people who came up to talk to me before the game, I felt sick.

“That’s the thing, the people are great here, the same as at Lewis. You come back and you have forgotten how great everyone is. As a fan, you wouldn’t want anyone to lose. A game like this is important for Joliet area sports and women’s basketball.”

Both teams were strong on the defensive end all night, and both offenses had difficulty solving the puzzle.

St. Francis (7-3), which had a seven-game winning streak snapped, never led. Lewis’ Kayla Brewer hit a 3-pointer to out the Flyers up 7-4 with 5:18 left in the first quarter, and the Saints were chasing the rest of the night.

Ekhomu, a Joliet Catholic Academy graduate, entered midway through the first quarter and was a key in helping the Flyers to their 31-18 halftime lead. She hit 3-of-4 shots in the half, including a falling-down 3-pointer and free for a rare four-point play soon after entering.

“It was kind of weird,” Ekhomu smiled. “At first I went to the wrong bench. But once I saw that shot go down, I knew it was a game.”

Ekhomu and her good friend, St. Francis senior guard Kamari Jordan, a Bolingbrook graduate, spent a good portion of the first half guarding each other.

“I’ve known of Kamari since we were in high school, and we got to be good friends from the time I came here as a freshman,” Ekhomu said. “We clicked immediately.”

Ekhomu said there was a form of trash talking going on between the two on social media leading up to the game. But when it started, things changed.

“We had it going back and forth before the game, but then the game starts, and neither of us is saying anything. Not a word,” Ekhomu said.

Lewis extended its lead to 36-20, the game’s largest lead, early in the third quarter. The Saints responded with an 11-0 run, with Paige Gieseke hitting a 3-pointer, two free throws and a layup off a turnover, to make things a bit more interesting, 36-31.

However, the Lewis defense then came up with seven consecutive stops, and with Jessica Kelliher hitting two baskets, the Flyers were back up 42-32 entering the fourth quarter.

Then came the knockout punches as Kelliher scored on a jumper and Brewer nailed two consecutive 3-pointers from the corner for a 50-35 lead with 7:01 left. USF got no closer than 51-42 the rest of the way.

“We cut it to five, and then I think we relaxed a little defensively,” Saints coach Steve Brooks said. “They hit two threes in a row, and I don’t know if they had done that all year.”

Kelliher finished with 16 points, 10 below her average, and 11 rebounds and forward Rachel Hinders added 15 points and 15 boards for Lewis, which enjoyed a 59-46 rebounding advantage. The Flyers shot a subpar 38.3 percent from the field but held the saints to a .315 mark on 17 of 54. In addition, Lewis was 19 of 27 from the free throw line, St. Francis 8 of 12.

“We did not shoot well,” Brooks said. “We missed 15 layups. We did not execute on the offensive end. We can’t let this define who we are. We are a better team that we showed tonight. But you couldn’t tell what we were running offensively. We went brain dead.

“We tried to keep the them loose, but they probably were a little tight because of the circumstances of this game.”

Jordan led the saints with 12 points , Kaitlyn Aylward had 11 and Gieseke nine. Nichole Davidson chipped in seven rebounds and Jordan had six.

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