ROMEOVILLE – After putting together a solid effort to build a comfortable 66-52 lead over Grand Valley State with 6:06 remaining, Lewis easily could have folded after what happened to it during the next few minutes.
The No. 13 Lakers, who opened with an exhibition victory at Marquette before kicking off their regular schedule with two easy victories, rattled off 14 straight points over the next 4:14 to force a 66-all tie with the No. 25 Flyers with 1:52 left in the game.
But Lewis responded to that threat by scoring the game’s final eight points to capture a 74-66 nonconference win Friday at Neil Carey Arena as coach Samantha Quigley Smith saw some encouraging signs of how good her team might be this season.
Jessica Kelliher tossed in 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Rachel Hinders collected 18 points and
eight rebounds, and Gabby Green added 15 points, six assists and four steals to lead the Flyers (2-1), who had a 54.5-36.8 advantage in field-goal percentage, which was boosted by a 42-24 scoring advantage in the paint.
“When you play a team like that, you have to understand that they’re so good that they’re not just going to lay down and let you do whatever you want,” Quigley Smith said. “We knew that they were going to come back with an extra fire, which is what they did, and I think we responded in a really good way, for the most part. I think that we understood that we had to eventually calm down, and we did that. When we took our time and executed offensively, we’re really scary good.
And then, you combine that with us getting stops on the other end and not giving them second opportunities, which they got in the first half. We did a great job of making sure that they only got one shot in the second half, which limits their possessions. And we also rebounded well in the second half. And with players like Stephanie Hart, Morgan Glatczak and Dajae Black coming in off the bench, they may not understand their impact, but it means so much to give awesome minutes so the level of play doesn’t drop, and that’s huge.”
Megan Belke scored all seven of her points to account for half of the Lakers’ points in their late rally, while their leading scorer, Maddie Dailey (17 points) contributed four more to pull them even for the first time since early in the second quarter.
But down the stretch, the Flyers moved in front for good on a layup by Green with 1:23 left, and Hinders made a layup with 38 seconds remaining to put the hosts up by four. Kelliher capped off her big evening with a layup with 18 seconds remaining, and then Stephanie Hart closed out the scoring three seconds after that when she converted two free throws.
After scoring 70 points in her first three games, Kelliher is now only three points behind Jamie Johnson as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Johnson collected 2,059 points in a memorable career that ran from 2011 to 2017, while four-year performer Kelliher now has 2,056 points. She can break the record when Lewis hosts Northwood at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“They were a handful,” Kelliher said. “They’re a really talented team that is really well-coached, so we knew that we were going to have a challenge tonight, and I think that we rose to the occasion really well, and we were able to pull it off. One of our focuses going into this game was that we knew that they were going to go on runs, and we just wanted to be able to respond to adversity, and I think that we were able to show that we can do that tonight, and that’s how we were able to pull off the win.
“We had people who came in, and no matter how many minutes they got in the game, they were able to do their jobs and were able to make key plays, and we were able to hit shots, and that takes the pressure off of me. As a team, we played great and came together. This was a huge win, especially this early in our season. We have a tough nonconference schedule and started with a loss. But I think that we responded really well this week.”
Things started well for the Lakers, who used seven points from Jenn DeBoer (14 points) to grab an early 15-8 lead. But the Flyers answered with a 25-9 burst that put them up, 33-24, with 3:19 left in the opening half on a layup by Kelliher. Grand Valley pulled to within 38-34 at the intermission and trailed, 56-48, heading into the dramatic final quarter.