MARION, Ind. -- For the first time in 2011-12 the No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball team was forced to play all 40 minutes in a 67-65 victory over Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) University on Saturday afternoon in Marion, Indiana.
Mount Vernon Nazarene (6-2, 1-2 MCC) had a chance to win it at the buzzer. Senior guard Sierra Fletcher received the ball on an inbounds play and raced down the court with 4.7 seconds left. Her deep 3-point attempt hit the backboard but hit nothing else as Indiana Wesleyan won their ninth straight game to open the season.
"(Mount Vernon Nazarene) is good," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "They went to the national tournament a year ago. They have length and quickness at the guard spots. My hat's off to them. They came in here with a chance to knock us off and almost did it. But at the same time the last five minutes of the game out kids competed and got some stuff to happen. It's a good lesson if we can learn from it."
The Cougars, playing in their first Mid-Central College Conference game against IWU, captured their first lead of the game with 11:04 remaining and had their largest lead of four points (53-49) with 7:28 left on the clock. With the Wildcats being stressed late for the first time this season, the team responded.
IWU senior center Krystal Stoneking scored four points over the next two possessions to tie the game at 53-53. But MVNU regained the lead on an Ashley Jessie 3-point basket with 2:26 left for a 60-59 advantage.
But Indiana Wesleyan stepped up the pressure on the defensive end, forcing stops on two straight possessions. On the other end of the floor senior guard Stephanie Burtch and Stoneking each scored on second chance points in the paint to push the lead to 63-60 with under a minute to go.
Junior guard Claire Freeman hit a pair of free throws with 24 second remaining to up the advantage to 66-62. But after gaining an offensive rebound, Fletcher threw up a deep 3-pointer that went in to trim the lead to 66-65 with six seconds left.
Freeman hit the second of two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining which set up the final heave by Fletcher that missed as the horn sounded.
"I'm pleased with the way we responded," said Brooks. "They didn't fold and Burtch made a couple nice efforts by driving it in. She made some aggressive plays. We got the ball to Krystal and she made some plays and Claire hit her free throws."
"It was frustrating but I'm really glad this game happened. We needed this. We need to understand we're not going to win every game by 30 points. Our kids have to learn they are going to see every team's best effort."
Indiana Wesleyan (9-0, 3-0 MCC) kept their record unblemished despite having their worst shooting performance of the season by far. IWU hit just 19-of-59 (32.2-percent) from the field and 4-of-16 (25.0-percent) from beyond the arc. From the foul line, Indiana Wesleyan was only 25-of-37 (67.6-percent).
"We didn't shoot it well," stated Brooks. "We missed nine layups in the second half. We missed free throws. Those are things that if you're going to be a team that's going to be reckoned with, you can't do that."
Senior guard Ashley Brooks was one of the only Wildcats to shoot well on Saturday. Brooks hit 5-of-8 shots and 2-of-3 from deep for 12 points. She added five rebounds and three assists.
With one of the more gaudy lines in recent history was Stoneking. She finished with her second straight double-double with 15 points and 21 rebounds. It is the second straight game that Stoneking set a career-high in rebounds after she pulled down 12 boards on Wednesday versus No. 20-ranked Grace (Ind.) College.
"She did a great job on the glass," added Brooks. "Since I've been here, that's the best rebounding game we've had."
Stoneking was three rebounds shy of the program record for rebounds in a single game. Marcia Miller set the standard with 24 rebounds against Goshen (Ind.) College during the 1979-1980 season.
Indiana Wesleyan will leave MCC play until January. The next game for Indiana Wesleyan is Friday, December 9 as IWU hosts No. 18-ranked Cardinal-Stritch (Wis.) University at 7 p.m. in Luckey Arena.