MARION, Ind. -- Two of the top four teams in NAIA Division II women's basketball put on a display worthy of the their rankings. No. 4 University of Saint Francis (Ind.) used a late run to defeat No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan University 54-48 in the Crossroads League Tournament Championship Monday night in Luckey Arena.
The Wildcats held a 48-45 lead when senior guard Claire Ray hit both free throws for the three point lead and 2:18 left in the game. Those would be the final points for the Wildcats as the Cougars scored the final nine points for the tournament championship victory.
Saint Francis (30-3) clung to a 50-48 advantage with less than a minute to go. With the shot clock starting to wind down, Saint Francis forced a jump ball situation with 37 seconds on the clock. The possession arrow was in favor of USF for an Indiana Wesleyan turnover. Indiana Wesleyan supplied heavy pressure as Saint Francis tried to move the ball but IWU was forced to foul with 24 seconds to play. Skylarr Shurn sank both free throws for the 52-48 lead.
Ray tried to answer on the other end and as she drove the lane the ball went sailing as there was a lot of contact. No foul was called and the ball was given to Saint Francis on the turnover. Jenelle Wilson hit both free throws for USF to complete the scoring.
"Hopefully this game will give us some more toughness and character," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Steve Brooks. "This was a hard game to lose so hopefully we learn from it and not let this happen again."
The biggest key of the game was turnovers. Indiana Wesleyan committed 21 turnovers on the night to just nine for Saint Francis. Turnovers were a factor as Saint Francis was able to take 17 more shots than Indiana Wesleyan.
"We missed free throws and we turned the ball over at the wrong time," continued Brooks. "We have to learn from it and get better and not let it happen again or it will be a quicker trip than we would like in Iowa."
Saint Francis was in a position to end the game quickly tonight as they built a 23-11 advantage in the first 16 minutes of action. Indiana Wesleyan would chip away at the deficit the rest of the first half with an 8-2 run to trail 25-19 at halftime.
Indiana Wesleyan (30-3) continued the trend from the end of the first half into the second half. Sophomore forward Teneil Krebs drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to put Indiana Wesleyan on top 33-31 with 12:44 to go. IWU did not stop there as another Krebs 3-pointer gave Indiana Wesleyan its largest lead of the night at 42-35.
After empty possessions by each team, Saint Francis turned momentum with six points in less than 30 seconds. Keying the 6-0 spurt were two Indiana Wesleyan turnovers.
With just under five minutes left the Cougars regained the lead 43-42 on a basket in the paint after a turnover. IWU senior forward Paige Smith hit one of her two free throws to tie the game. On the next Indiana Wesleyan possession, junior guard Taylor Goshert drove the lane for the basket and foul. She hit the free throw for a 46-43 lead. After a Shurn basket on the other end, Ray hit the two free throws for the final Wildcat points that preceded the 9-0 USF run.
The loss ends a 35-game home win streak for Indiana Wesleyan that dates back to February 16, 2011. IWU lost 61-53 in a regular season game to Marian (Ind.) University. Indiana Wesleyan had won all 14 games in Luckey Arena this season before tonight's game.
Smith and Ray, the two seniors playing their final home game, each scored 13 points to lead Indiana Wesleyan. Ray added career-highs of nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Goshert finished with eight points and tied a career-best with 11 rebounds while Krebs added six points off the bench.
Indiana Wesleyan will next await its seed and First Round opponent for the NAIA National Tournament. Brackets will be released on the NAIA Facebook page at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.