MARION, Ind. -- A full and boisterous Luckey Arena of 1,500 fans witnessed a classic Wednesday night as No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women's basketball found a bit of revenge in a 59-57 victory over No. 3-ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.).
Sophomore guard Emma Stahl clinched the two point victory for the Wildcats when she blocked Kayla Drake's 3-point shot. The blocked shot sailed high and then into the middle of the lane as the buzzer sounded.
The win avenges the only Indiana Wesleyan loss of the season. Saint Francis beat Indiana Wesleyan 62-55 on January 16 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Saint Francis (24-3, 13-2 CL) tied the score 55-55 with 1:22 left in the game on a Skylarr Shurn basket in the paint. Senior guard Claire Ray followed with a layup of her own for Indiana Wesleyan as IWU regained a 57-55 advantage.
The Cougars came down the court to either tie the score or take the lead. Ray blocked Drake's initial shot which the Cougars scooped up to retain possession. Jenelle Wilson then took a shot as the shot clock winded down but it hit only glass and as the Cougars got a second offensive rebound the shot clock sounded for a 30-second violation with 25 seconds remaining on the game clock.
Stahl received the ensuing inbound pass and was quickly fouled with 19 seconds left. She sank both free throws to put Indiana Wesleyan up four at 59-55.
"Those were big," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "We had a chance to spread it out at the line and didn't do it earlier. We missed free throws at the wrong time. Emma stepped up there and nailed two free throws to make it a four point game and gave us a bit of a cushion. It made them have to think about how to do this. We did what we had to do down the stretch."
Saint Francis raced the ball down the court and Drake took the initial shot that drew only iron. Wilson pulled down the offensive rebound and scored to cut the deficit to two at 59-57 and the clock down to 9.8 seconds. Wilson then fouled out as she wrapped up IWU junior guard Taylor Goshert with 6.4 seconds remaining. Goshert missed the front end of the one-and-one free throw to set up the Stahl block to end the game.
"I thought our kids did a really nice job of communicating," said Brooks about the Wildcats' defensive plays at the end of the game. "Those were big plays for us down the stretch with the way Saint Francis was shooting the ball deep and to get them to take a contested shot and we were able to do that. I think our kids out front did a really good job switching and then creating a situation where they couldn't get all the way to the basket."
The final 12 minutes of the game witnessed six ties and four lead changes. That was a different story from the first 28 minutes of the game as Indiana Wesleyan dominated play.
Saint Francis quickly tallied a 6-1 advantage but that was negated by a 12-0 Indiana Wesleyan run. The IWU lead would reach as high as eight points in the opening half and Indiana Wesleyan took a 27-20 halftime advantage.
Indiana Wesleyan (26-1, 14-1 CL) scored nine of the first 13 points of the second half to build a 12-point cushion at 36-24. The 12 point lead was the largest of the game for either team. But Saint Francis quickly erased the deficit with a 12-0 run to tie the game just two and a half minutes later.
"When you turn the ball over like we did tonight that's going to kill you," stated Brooks. "We gave up untimely 3's and turned the ball over at the wrong time. Saint Francis hit a couple deep 3's without a hand in their face and that's something we have to learn from and hopefully get better because of it."
Saint Francis was limited to just 36.2-percent (21 of 58) shooting on the night but did connect on 8-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. USF nailed 5-of-11 from 3-point range in the second half to overcome the deficit. Indiana Wesleyan shot 57.1-percent in each half with 12-of-21 shooting both times. IWU did struggle form the line at 60.0-percent on 9-of-15 shooting.
Senior forward Paige Smith led the Wildcats with 18 points, six rebounds, and three steals. Goshert added 11 points and four rebounds while Stahl cashed in 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, two blocked shot, and two steals. Sophomore forward Katrina Blackmon finished with nine points and four boards and Ray tallied eight points and five rebounds.
Drake scored a game-high 19 points for Saint Francis. She was 6-of-20 from the field and 5-of-15 from 3-point range. Shurn added 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting while Wilson added 10 points and four assists.
Indiana Wesleyan returns to action at 1 p.m. on Saturday with another top-25 battle in store. IWU travels to Mishawaka, Indiana to face No. 15-ranked Bethel (Ind.) College.