After rattling off wins against the University of New Hampshire and Brown University the Warriors took a road trip out to Champaign, to take on the University of Illinois. The game would be the first time Merrimack had ever faced a power five school in women’s basketball. As the clear underdog the Warriors went in with the “nothing to lose” mentality.
The trip started with a night in downtown Chicago were the team walked around the city and explored. After a day of fun, it was time to get down to business. The next day the Warriors participated in a shoot around, which gave them their first look at the State Farm Center.
“When we walked into the State Farm Center it was just like a dream come true. Being able to play in that dome was such an incredible feeling and I always dreamed of playing at one of those Big Ten schools.” – Freshman Jayme DeCesare
Jayme DeCesare drives in the lane against Illinois
Warm-ups were done, the anthem had finished, teams were at center court… it was time to play. Out of the gate, the Warriors once again came out firing on the big stage. Davis-Stewart, again proved why the moment wasn’t too big, scoring nine first quarter points, giving Merrimack a 19-15 lead heading into the second. Towards the end of the quarter senior Emily Houle, graduate student Courtney Clasen, and Mager hit three balls on three straight possessions that put the Warriors up one heading into the locker room.
In the third quarter both teams went blow for blow for the first five minutes until Illinois jumped out to a five-point lead. Two minutes later DeCesare knocked down a three to tie the game. At the end of the third, the Warriors trailed by just one point. No matter what happened in the last 10 minutes, the Warriors could hold their head high knowing they had a power five conference team on the ropes.
Kate Mager and Diamond Christian celebrate after a three
In the fourth, Merrimack took an early one-point lead on a Davis-Stewart jump shot. Illinois then rattled off eight straight points to take a 68-60 lead with 4:32 left in the ball game. A Davis-Stewart three put the Warriors down three with just under two minutes remaining. Merrimack began to foul down the stretch. After a missed free throw by Illinois, Mager came down the other end and knocked down a three to put the Warriors within one with eight seconds remaining. Merrimack fouled again, this time they knocked down both free throws. Merrimack called a timeout down three. The inbound play was set for Mager to get the ball for an open look, and that is exactly what happened. The sophomore caught the ball at the top of the key, released it, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net. The game was over and the Warriors were narrowly defeated 75-72.
We were neck and neck all game and unfortunately when the final buzzer sounded, we lost by 3. To compete with a Big Ten school showed that we could beat any team in the country if we all believed, which we did, said Mager