New year, new team — Trio of wins boost Griffons’ confidence

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Brittany Griswold scored 17 points in the first half; Jessica Koch had four steals in the second.

But it was Alex Noble’s layup and Alicia Bell’s free throws that gave Missouri Western its third straight win, as the Griffons defeated Truman State 65-64 Wednesday night at MWSU Fieldhouse.

The win itself shouldn’t come as a big surprise, as the Bulldogs and Griffons are tied for sixth in the conference with six more weeks to play. But the way the Griffons struggled in the first half compared to the second half definitely saw a change, and the role players proved to be the difference.

“It was so fun having the whole team together and complete something that we wanted to do,” Koch said. “We all wanted to beat that team. We all wanted to play well. We came together and we did it.”

The role players came through when Western needed them to most. Down 60-59 with less than one minute to play, Koch went up for a 3-pointer, only to see the ball dribble around the hoop and bounce out. That’s when Noble jumped up to take the offensive rebound, and scored a quick two-point bucket to give Western its first lead of the game.

Bell went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 25 seconds, and Kallie Schoonover wrestled away a defensive rebound to give the ball back to the Griffons and maintain the lead.

“We’ve fought back before but we haven’t successfully fought back,” Western coach Lynn Plett said. “I think Truman has really improved. I thought they played really well tonight and for us to beat them was huge for us.”

Western (5-8, 3-5) found itself in a hole early. With Griswold the only offense early, Truman (8-5, 3-5) took advantage. Its tight defense countered with an electrifying offense that scored 29 points in the first nine minutes. Western, down by its biggest margin of the night — 16,  found a little offense after that as Truman took a 41-32 lead into the half.

“We didn’t come out very strong,” said Griswold, who had a game-high 23 points. “We couldn’t let them get a huge lead that we couldn’t come back. I guess that was the drive for me to keep going, that I’m not going to give up on this.”

The Bulldogs never added to its lead, instead went back-and-fourth with a hungry Griffons team that wanted to make a statement at home.

Truman packed on a few buckets to take a 51-44 advantage, but Alex Saxen nailed a 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs lead from seven to four. Becka McHenry, who led her team with 18 points, matched Saxen’s 3. But the Griffons didn’t let the deficit affect them.

Another reserve, Brittany Casady, put in a 3 to again cut Truman’s lead down to four. Both teams matched five points apiece as the game locked at 59-54 with 6 minutes and 45 seconds to play.

“There was a time where there was a stalemate,” Koch said. “They were playing just as tough of defense as we were.”

Koch was the answer. After a drought of more than three minutes in which neither team scored, Koch threw up a contested 3 that swished through the net, marking the score at 59-57. Less than two minutes later, Griswold joined her teammate as she put in a left-handed two-pointer that tied the game.

After Nicole Gloor made one-of-two free throws, Koch shot another 3 that bricked off the rim, when Noble — a senior — took the rebound and scored to give her team the lead.

“This whole year, even before the new year, we were such a hard working team,” Koch said. “I think finally we’re just starting to play together and it’s starting to show.”

Western’s defense didn’t allow a field goal from from the 6:45 mark until McHenry put in a two-pointer with 13 seconds to play to cut Western’s 63-60 lead down to one. But Bell knocked down both her free throws and McHenry fouled out, leaving Truman without its biggest offensive threat.

The Bullodogs missed on a 3 to tie, and Breanna Daniels made a layup at the buzzer to end the game 65-64 to give Western the win.

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