MAIRON, Ind. -- No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball defeated Taylor (Ind.) University 69-60 on Tuesday evening in the Mid-Central College Conference Tournament First Round at Luckey Arena.
The Grant County rivals took to the court for the third time this season and each time Indiana Wesleyan came out on top. IWU advances to the MCC Tournament Semifinals for the 11th consecutive season and will host No. 4-seed University of Saint Francis (Ind.) on Friday night. Saint Francis defeated No. 5-seed Grace (Ind.) College 72-62 in Fort Wayne.
Tonight's game was a tale of two halves. The first saw Indiana Wesleyan take a 25-19 lead into half but then outscored Taylor 44-41 in the final 20 minutes.
"I was really proud of the way our kids came out defensively in the first half," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "I thought we did some really good things in the first half. Then in the second half, I don't know if it was fatigue or what, but we had a couple break downs that we didn't need to have. With that, we let them back in the game and that was tough."
Taylor (18-13) quickly grabbed a 7-2 lead as Indiana Wesleyan was held scoreless for the three plus minutes of the game. Indiana Wesleyan then turned a corner and completely dominated Taylor over the next nine minutes. During that span, IWU scored 16 unanswered points to gain an 18-7 lead with 7:52 left in the half.
The Wildcats upped the advantage to as many as 12 points (21-9) in the half before the Trojans charged back. In a minute and a half span the Trojans scored eight straight points to trim the lead to four points. A Krystal Stoneking basket in the paint to end the half gave the Wildcats the 25-19 lead at intermission.
Two Stoneking free throws with 14:22 left pushed the Indiana Wesleyan lead back to 12 points at 38-26. But Taylor responded with a 21-8 run to reclaim their first lead since early in the game at 47-46 and less than eight minutes remaining.
Junior forward Paige Smith scored down low on the next Wildcat possession to quickly recover the lead. After a defensive stop, senior guard Stephanie Burtch drilled a 3-pointer in the corner to suddenly turn a deficit into a two possession lead. Burtch finished the night with 15 points and five rebounds. She was 5-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
"I'm really proud of Steph," added Brooks. "She hit a bit shot at Taylor on Wednesday last week, a big 3 from the corner. And she carried it over tonight and hit some big 3's to increase our lead. She gave us a chance to tell them we're not going to let you back in it completely."
Taylor would trim the lead down to two points on their next two possessions. But each time Indiana Wesleyan sent the ball into the post and Smith and Stoneking took care of the rest to increase the lead back to four.
Ten of Indiana Wesleyan's 14 points in the final five minutes came from the free throw line. Indiana Wesleyan hit 10-of-12 from the line in that time as senior guards Ashley Brooks and Rachel Steinbarger both hit 4-of-4 from the stripe.
"Those were big free throws in the end," stated Brooks. "Both Rachel and Ashley hit big free throws for us and it kept them at bay. Rachel has been playing well and hopefully will continue to do so."
Taylor would get no closer than six points in the final three minutes as Indiana Wesleyan advanced their lead to as many as 12 (69-57) in securing the First Round victory.
Stoneking led the Wildcats with 19 points, seven boards, and four blocked shots. Her post mate Smith added 16 points and seven rebounds as both finished 8-of-13 from the field. Burtch added 15 points and Steinbarger scored 11 as four Wildcats scored in double figures.
Indiana Wesleyan shot 52.2-percent (24 of 46) overall and 44.4-percent (4 of 9) from range. Taylor was limited to 34.4-percent (21 of 61) on the night but did hit half of their 10 3-point attempts.
Taylor sophomore guard Kelsey Bryant led all players with 21 points. Erika Redweik added 16 points with 15 of those coming in the second half.
Indiana Wesleyan (29-2) hosts Saint Francis at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 24 in Luckey Arena in the MCC Tournament Semifinals. Tickets are $7 for adults and $2 for students.
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