The University of South Dakota Coyotes returned to the DakotaDome from an emotionally draining road trip at North Dakota State and newly reinstated rival South Dakota State, finding themselves at 2-5 and occupying 9th place in the Summit League standings.
With a chance to move up with a pair of home games, the Coyotes responded to the losses at NDSU and SDSU by beating the Western Illinois Leathernecks 78-57 Saturday afternoon.
"All those kids who didn't shoot well at South Dakota State shot well today," USD head coach Ryun Williams said. "It was neat to see them respond that way."
Brittany Demery gave the Leathernecks a quick 10-6 lead with a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws.
Tempestt Wilson asserted herself as the half's hot shooter by dropping in back-to-back treys, putting the Coyotes ahead 12-10.
Amber Hegge added an old-school 3-point play and a baseline drive for a bucket as the Coyotes were on their way to a 21-2 run.
Wilson and Annie Roche, the latest Coyote to join the 1,000-point scoring club, added 3-pointers as Wilson, who was 3-3 from downtown with 13 points at the half, moved in for a jumper and a 27-12 Coyote lead.
The Leathernecks trimmed USD's lead to single digits, 37-28, as Saula Kontautaite scored off a Coyote turnover.
Alexis Yackley was 4-4 from the free-throw line in the final 1:33 of the half to give USD a 41-30 bulge at the break.
The tide turned with half, and the Leathernecks were charging.
Western Illinois pulled to within 44-36 on a drive from Rebecca Henricson and 3-pointers from Kontautaite, Sadie Webb and Michele Salvatori completely evaporated the deficit and put the Leathernecks in front 45-44 at the 15:51 mark.
"We were thinking a lot of things then; the first five minutes of the half and we wanted to capture their spirit but we didn't do that," Williams said of the Western Illinois surge. "They went on a 15-5 run and we tightened up a bit; things got a little bit nerve-racking."
"It was neck and neck at one point, but we knew what we had to do," Wilson said as the Leathernecks' position on top was short-lived.
Wilson, who remained hot, hung in the lane against contact and got a short jumper to fall, taking back the lead for the 'Yotes.
Jodie Boss, who leads the Summit League with a 55.9-percent field-goal percentage, scored her first points of the game with a 3-point play for a 49-45 lead with 15:01 left.
Webb made one of two free throws, to slightly stem USD's tide, but Wilson went back to the lane and forced another short jumper through the hole.
Boss added two more free throws and freshman Kelly Stewart scored from downtown, and the Coyote lead was back to double-digits at 56-46 with 11:29 to play.
Demery scored on a jumper, keeping the Leathernecks in the hunt, trailing 57-50, but Wilson stuck another trey and the Coyotes never looked back.
Boss continued on with her eight-of-nine free-throw shooting half and Roche and Yackley added 3-pointers as the Coyotes built a 72-55 lead and went on to the 78-57 win.
Led by Boss and Wilson, USD retracted the game with Hegge on the bench. The senior backbone of the Coyotes picked up a pair of fouls five seconds apart early in the second half and had to sit after picking up her fourth personal with 14:17 to play.
Hegge returned but was scoreless in the half, but Wilson, Boss, Roche and Yackley picked up the slack.
"Tempestt and Jodie were exceptional today – especially when Amber went to the bench." Williams said.
"Obviously when your best player and top scorer goes out, somebody has to step up and it can't be just one player," Roche said. "The whole team responded."
Coming off a 19-point game in Brookings that kept the Coyotes within reach of the league-leading Jacks, Wilson finished with a season-high 22 points, continuing her knack of having great shooting nights when the 'Yotes really need her.
"Tempestt is a good player and everything she got today was within what we were trying to do," Williams said of the junior guard. "Temp realizes that she is a capable scorer and that South Dakota State game really got her going."
"Temp has a killer instinct and she comes up big for us at the right time," Roche said.
Roche finished with 13 points as Boss and Yackley each had 12 points. Boss and Hegge each had double-doubles as Boss grabbed 13 rebounds and Hegge had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Hegge, who is ranked in the Summit League's top-10 in 10 different categories also had six assists in her 25 minutes. Yackley had five assists and Boss had four blocks.
Demery led WIU with 14 points as Valencia Kelly had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Coyotes jumped up two spots in the Summit standings with the win and can continue to rise with a win over IUPUI tonight at 7 p.m.
"We're not afraid to address the standings with the team because we're in a conference finally," Williams said. "We have to claw our way up and we can do that with a good 80 minutes of basketball; we got 40 solid minutes today."