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Illini squander 11-point lead in loss to Bradley

The Illini women jumped out to an 11-point halftime lead before the Bradley Braves stormed back to stun the Illini 98-92 in both teams' season opener. It's the second straight year Matt Bollant's Illini have lost to the Braves.
PEORIA, Ill. (UI Release) - Illinois and Bradley combined for a Renaissance Coliseum record of 190 total points Friday morning, but it was a strong 57-point second half performance from the Braves that was the difference maker in the Illini's 98-92 season-opening loss. Amber Moore and Ivory Crawford scored nearly half of the team's total in today's effort with a combined 45 points. 

Moore could not be stopped from three-point range in the first half as she went 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.  The senior finished the game with seven total three-point field goals made, which not only tied her career high that ranks second in school history but also set a new Renaissance Coliseum record. 

Ivory Crawford, who produced three 20+ point games a season ago, led the team today with 24 points. The junior shot 10-for-21 from the field and 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. 

"We were not very good defensively throughout the game. Our returners have to better and getting into foul trouble really hurt our team," Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. "We didn't have any mentality. The defense is about mentality and we needed players to step up and have it but they didn't."

The Orange and Blue shot out of the gate fast, jumping to a 12-6 lead with all five starters getting in the points column. Bradley soon fought back, producing a 7-0 run to take their first lead at 21-20. It was a tight scoring game throughout the majority of the half until two minutes left. Illinois' shooting then heated up, and the Illini went on a 9-0 run to close the half with a 52-41 lead. 

"We were making shots. Amber stepped up and and made a bunch of threes. We got really good looks offensively and I thought we got we wanted throughout the game on that end," Bollant said. 

However, the second half did not start the way the Illini envisioned. After a few early Illinois buckets, Bradley rallied with a 22-5 run spanning roughly six minutes. The Orange and Blue also found themselves in early foul trouble, as Bradley entered the bonus with 12:28 remaining in the game. 

Facing a 15-point deficit with four minutes left in the game, Illinois tried to surmount a comeback of their own. After baskets from Moore and Crawford, Sarah Hartwell scored seven straight points for the Illini. Jacqui Grant then answered with with an offensive board and put-back jumper to cut the lead to five with 51 seconds remaining. 

Yet, the Braves were able to hang on, converting four-straight free throws to eventually win 98-92. Bradley's Michelle Young scored a career-high 32 points, while Kelsey Budd contributed 23 points on 71 percent shooting. Bradley also enjoyed a 48-32 rebounding advantage this morning while also going to the free-throw line 25 times compared to the Illini's two. 

Illinois freshman Jacqui Grant had a solid collegiate debut as she recorded a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds. In addition, despite being limited in minutes due to foul trouble, Sarah Hartwell scored 18 points in her debut, going 8-for-10 from the field and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. 

Despite the loss, Illinois did tie the program record for most three-point field goals made in a game with 12. It marked just the third time in school history an Illinois team recorded 12 treys, previously accomplished in 2003 and 1997. In addition, the Illini's 92 points was the second-highest point total in the Bollant era. 

Illinois will look to bounce back Tuesday for their home opener when it welcomes Valparaiso into the State Farm Center for a 7 p.m. showdown.
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