MARION, Ind. -- Senior center Krystal Stoneking finished with 26 points and nine rebounds as No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball held Marian (Ind.) at bay for a 55-50 victory on Saturday afternoon in Luckey Arena.
Although Indiana Wesleyan never trailed in the final 12 minutes Marian stayed within striking distance to the end. The majority of the final four minutes was a one possession game
But much like Wednesday's victory over No. 25-ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.) Indiana Wesleyan went to work when it mattered most. Junior guard Claire Freeman hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 20 seconds to help secure the five point win.
"Well I think that has been the nature of this team and hopefully it will continue to be the nature of this team," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "They are competitive and want to win. They are going to fight, scratch, and claw to be able to see that come to fruition. We did it the other night and we did it again today. I would like for them to understand it is a 40 minute game and let's do it throughout."
On five occasions in the first half Indiana Wesleyan built a seven point lead. The last of those leads was 20-13 with 6:18 to play when Stoneking scored in the paint. But the shots stopped dropping as Marian ran off a 9-2 run to tie the score 22-22.
"I thought we came out and played with some intensity," continued Brooks. "To start the game we did some good things and were up seven. We didn't shoot the ball very well, not like we have. I thought we got some good shots but we missed shots."
Indiana Wesleyan (21-1, 10-0 MCC) regrouped over the final 1:35 of the half and reeled off six unanswered points to take a 28-22 lead into halftime. Senior guard Ashley Brooks spurred the late half run with the final four points.
Marian (13-6, 5-5 MCC) would open the second half on a 13-4 run to gain their first lead of the game and maintain a 35-32 lead with 13 minutes remaining. Despite just four points in the first seven minutes of the half, Indiana Wesleyan would recoup the lead with six straight points. Stoneking nailed a pair of free throws for a 38-35 advantage near the midway point of the period.
The Wildcats eventually increased the lead to a game-high eight points (49-41) when freshman guard Emma Stahl completed an old-fashion 3-point play with 4:52 remaining. But momentum swiftly turned to the Knights in a matter of 47 seconds.
On the next Marian possession the Knights' Whitney Emerson scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw but Nikki Schmidt hauled in the offensive rebound and put it back up for a four point Marian possession. Following an IWU turnover, Marian quickly brought the ball down the court and Rachel Turk scored and was fouled. Turk hit the free throw to suddenly bring Marian to within one (49-48) after trailing by eight less than a minute earlier.
But reminiscent of Wednesday's win over Saint Francis, the Indiana Wesleyan defense tightened up. Saint Francis was held scoreless over the final four minutes of play and on Saturday Marian was limited to just two points during that same stretch.
IWU junior forward Paige Smith hit two free throws for a 52-48 lead with 33 seconds to play. Marian scored their only two points in the final four minutes on their next possession with a Turk bucket in the paint with 22 seconds on the clock.
Freeman was fouled and sent to the line where she hit 1-of-2 freebies for a 53-50 Wildcat lead. Marian's Natasha Marshall drove towards the basket and pitched it to the opposite side of the floor where nobody was around to give the ball back to Indiana Wesleyan. Freeman was fouled and secured the victory with two free throws.
"Second time around our kids have to be ready because teams are going to come after you. They came after us and we have to do a better job competing," said Brooks. "(Marian) played extremely hard and they are very well coached. They do a great job of getting the ball inside."
Stoneking was the only Wildcat in double figures with her 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Freeman added eight points and five assists while Brooks contributed seven points. IWU shot 42.9-percent (18 of 42) on Saturday and were 3-of-5 (60.0-percent) from beyond the arc.
Marian was led by Emily Smithson with 13 points and Turk with 12. MU was limited to 40.4-percent (21 of 52) from the field and committed 19 turnovers.
Indiana Wesleyan will now take to the road for their next two games. The first comes at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 25 when Indiana Wesleyan travels to Winona Lake, Indiana for a showdown with No. 18-ranked Grace College.
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