Wheaton, Ill. – The Wheaton Thunder women's basketball team used a dominant fourth quarter to defeat Illinois Wesleyan, 66-62 on Saturday night in the CCIW Women's Basketball Tournament Championship Game. Wheaton earned the CCIW's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Division III Women's basketball Tournament.
This year's CCIW Tournament title marks the third-consecutive year that Wheaton has won the event and the sixth time overall. Wheaton's six tournament championships is tied for first in conference history with Illinois Wesleyan. Wheaton will be making its 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. Head coach Kent Madsen is guiding the Thunder into the tournament for the fourth time in his seven seasons at the helm of the women's basketball program.
The Thunder led 16-15 at the conclusion of the first quarter tonight. The two teams remained no farther than three points from each other in the second quarter. A basket by IWU's Maddie Merritt with two seconds left in the first half allowed the Titans to hold a 31-28 halftime lead.
A layup by Thunder guard Kelly Lawson with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter cut the Titans' lead to three points at 37-34. Illinois Wesleyan responded with five unanswered points to take its largest lead of the game with a five-point bulge at 42-34 with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter. The Titans maintained a lead for the rest of the third quarter IWU led 50-44 at the conclusion of the third quarter.
The Titans led 57-49 with 5:53 remaining in the game when a basket by Wheaton senior Ellie Zeller sparked the Thunder rally. Zeller's basket was the first points in a 15-2 Thunder run over a span of 5:45 to give the hosts a 64-59 lead with nine-seconds remaining in regulation.
The key stretch in the quarter occurred with IWU leading 59-55 with 2:23 left in the game and Chantal Meacham drained Wheaton's only three-pointer of the night. Freshman Jill Berg followed with a layup at 1:31 to give Wheaton its first lead of the second half. Zeller increased Wheaton's lead 62-59 with 55-seconds remaining when she converted a layup.
Over the next 45-seconds Wheaton's defense played a large role as Berg blocked two shots and Zeller recorded a block and steal. Katie McDaniels made two free throws with nine-seconds left in the game to increase the hosts' lead to 64-59. Illinois Wesleyan's Molly McGraw sank a long three-pointer to cut the Thunder lead to 64-62 with four-seconds left in the game. The Titans quickly fouled McDaniels with three-seconds left and she made both free throws to account for the 66-62 final score. Wheaton out-scored the Titans 22-12 in the crucial fourth quarter.
McDaniels led the Thunder with 14 points, four assists and two steals. Lawson shot 5-of-7 from the field as she contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Berg had an outstanding night with 10 points, six rebounds, eight blocked shots and three assists off the Thunder bench. Maggie Dansdill scored eight points for the hosts. Zeller and Meacham each scored seven points with three rebounds and two assists. Zeller added two key blocked shots in the fourth quarter. Wheaton totaled 12 blocked shots in the game.
The Thunder shot 44.1% (26-of-59) from the field, including 10% (1-of-10) from three-point range. Illinois Wesleyan registered a 34.8% (24-of-69) field goal percentage, including 20% (3-of-15) behind the three-point arc. Wheaton shot 68.4% (13-of-19) at the free throw line and the Titans had an 84.6% (11-of-13) effort at the charity stripe. IWU out-rebounded the Thunder 50-32, including a 20-7 edge on the offensive glass.
Rebekah Ehresman scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Titans tonight. She added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Maddie Merritt tallied 14 points with 10 rebounds. Molly McGraw scored 12 points with four rebounds and two assists.