PEORIA, Ill. — Career games by Megan Roney and LaToya Bond made it a happy homecoming for Missouri coach Cindy Stein on Sunday.
Stein, a native of Peoria, Ill., earned her 150th career win with Missouri’s 77-51 season-opening victory against Bradley at Robertson Field House.
Missouri started slow, not scoring until Bond’s layup 4 minutes into the game, but the Tigers eventually opened a 31-19 halftime lead. Bond and Roney then led the Tigers on a 17-2 run to start the second half, which helped Missouri secure its eighth straight opening victory.
For Stein, reaching the milestone in her hometown was nice, but she was happier that her team started the season on the right track.
“It wasn’t planned, but obviously it’s one of those things that you feel good about being able to share with your friends and family,” Stein said. “But I’m more proud of the team and the way it kept battling throughout the game.”
Bond spent much of the first-half on the bench with two fouls, but ignited the Tigers by scoring 15 of her career-high and game-high 17 points in the second half.
Early in the second, Bond’s ballhandling and ability to penetrate single-handedly broke down Bradley’s full-court press. Several times during the second half, Bond broke the press and took the ball to the basket, drawing a foul. She made 11-of-12 free throws.
“Basically, they just put a lot of pressure in the frontcourt and I was able to beat them,” Bond said. “No one picked me up, so I just went straight to the basket and they just kept fouling me and that’s what I was looking to do.”
Roney, a 6-foot-3 junior, led an all-around impressive outing by the Missouri bench. With starting center Melanie Fisher in foul trouble for much of the game, Roney picked up the slack with career highs in points (12), rebounds (nine) and blocks (three).
Roney was 5-for-5 from the field, but her personal highlight came when she made her first career 3-pointer early in the second.
“I was really excited about my first 3,” Roney said. “I looked over at the bench afterwards and smiled. It was only the second (3-pointer) I’ve shot in my whole life.”
Missouri’s bench outscored Bradley’s bench 35-18, and every Tiger but Fisher scored. Christelle N’Garsanet, who transferred from Illinois Central College in Peoria this year, had eight points, six rebounds and four blocks in 11 minutes off the bench.
Freshman Blair Hardiek handled the pressure at point guard off the bench with Bond in foul trouble in the first half. Hardiek finished with 10 points in 24 minutes.
Starting forward Evan Unrau had a quiet game, scoring seven points with a team-high 12 rebounds, but Stein was glad the team did not rely heavily on Unrau.
“We’ve talked all along that we can’t just jump on Evan’s back and try to make her do everything,” Stein said. “We’ve got to have a lot of other people step up, even though she is a terrific player.
“Our bench has to be able to contribute like that for us to be successful down the road and I think we all know that.”
Amy Fuller’s 13 points and game-high 19 rebounds was the one bright spot for the Braves. Bradley (0-2) struggled from the field, shooting 32.4 percent. Dena Williams, a Columbia native and Hickman graduate, scored six points and had 10 rebounds for Bradley before fouling out with 1:55 left.
After the game, Stein, who played at both Peoria-Richwoods High and Illinois Central College, said there was some sentimental value to coming back to her hometown and beating Paula Buscher, Bradley’s coach and Stein’s former teammate at Richwoods.
“The most important thing coming back to Peoria is that we win and everything else is just a side item,” Stein said. “But I love Peoria, and I love everybody at Bradley.”