DECATUR -- It was the start to a season that players and coaches dream about.
Millikin's offense was clicking -- 22 points in the first quarter -- and defense was just as strong -- Carthage was held to eight first quarter points -- as the Big Blue women won their season debut, 77-66, Saturday at home.
"I was feeling crazy. It's been a long time and we've been practicing for today for a long time. The excitement of today was through the roof," Millikin senior Jordan Hildebrand said. "I think it went well and our adrenaline was rushing for the occasion. I think we played a lot as a team. It was our first game in 11 months, so I think we stepped up pretty well.
Bailey Coffman led all scorers with 17 points and Hildebrand added 13. Both Coffman and Hildebrand led the Big Blue with eight rebounds. Six Millikin players scored eight points or more as the Big Blue were in control at halftime 40-22.
"I think we all shared the ball well and the points were distributed pretty well. I don't think anyone tried to take it on themselves. Everyone got their share," Hildebrand said. "I think (opponents) can't narrow in on any individual player when were all scoring like that. That makes us hard to guard."
Carthage shot 7-for-28 in the first half (25%) and Millikin head coach Olivia Lett stressed the importance of the team's defensive performance in practice.
"I think we wanted to go in and focus on us. That's what we talked about a lot and honestly, we didn't do a lot with the (Carthage) scouting reports," she said. "We were prepared for some of the places that they were going to attack and I think that we had a really good focus defensively. That's what we wanted to pay attention to, how hard where we going to go in defense. We can't control if every shot was going to go in but defensively we can control our effort."
Millikin freshman and Tolono Unity star Elyce Knudsen knocked down the first basket of her college career on a 3-pointer that served as the first points for the Big Blue this season. She finished with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in her college debut.
"Elyce is a special player and I think everyone knows that. She went through some rough things today with (seven) turnovers and I think the whistle didn't go her way today," Lett said. "I'm not sure if people could tell from the live stream how well she can handle the basketball. When we see a night that she really finds her groove, I think people are going to be even more impressed by that."
Although there were no fans in the stands at the Griswold Center, the Millikin bench made it feel like a large group was cheering those on the court.
"Our bench was unbelievable today and that was the first thing I said when I walked in at halftime was our energy was great," Lett said. "We talked about if you are active on the bench, then you're going to be ready when you get in the game that pace of the game and that intensity is not going to a surprise to you. They all really bought into that."
Millikin was strong on the boards -- outrebounding Carthage 31-19 --and were just as solid from the free-throw line, making 18-of-23 attempts.
"We were huge on the boards and I thought Jordan was really good. Our littles got in there and they offensive rebounded like crazy," Lett said. "We had 13 offensive rebounds and that is a lot. It's hard for people to box us out if you had that many people crashing."
Other strong performance from Millikin included Effingham graduate Miranda Fox who finished with eight points, six assists and four rebounds. Aubrey Stanton connected on three 3-pointers for 10 total points and grabbed three rebounds. Taylorville graduate Natalie Snyder added nine points and five rebounds.
Kelsey Coshun led Carthage with 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Amanda Larson and Ayanna Ester each put in 13.
Carthage chipped away at Millikin's lead in the third and fourth quarters and a Coshun layup with 5:37 left made it 65-57. Millikin responded with a 3-pointer from Staton and two Coffman free throws had the lead back up to 70-57.
"In the CCIW, you can't take a lead for granted and you have to stay steady the whole game," Hildebrand said. " The CCIW is full of good teams that will chip away. I don't think you can ever let up on the game."
The unusual CCIW schedule with have the Big Blue face Carthage again on Monday, this time in Kenosha.
"(Carthage) is a really well-coached team and (head coach Tim Bernero) is going to be able to look at that second half and dice it up and try to take advantage of some of the things that we do," Lett said. "We wanted to make sure (our pace and intensity) were making everything difficult for them, so they're not excited about having to turn around and play us again on Monday.
"I think we left them a little bit of hope, so we've got to make sure from the tip off on Monday every play has that same intensity. We can't roll in there with an ‘we've already done this’ attitude."
Millikin men fall to Carthage on the road
KENOSHA, Wisc. -- The Millikin men's basketball team lost at Carthage College 83-57 on Saturday to open the 2020-21 season.
Carthage led 43-26 at halftime and outscored the Big Blue 40-31 in the second half.
Carthage led 43-26 at the half and shot 51% from the field for the game. Carthage was 11-for-24 (46%) from 3-point range. Millikin shot 39% from the field and went 3-for-14 from 3-point range. Millikin won the rebounding battle 40-27.
Joshua Washburn led Carthage with 20 points and Fillip Bulatovic put in 15.
The Big Blue will make their home debut on Monday against Carthage at 6 p.m.
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten