BLOOMINGTON — During Molly McGraw’s first two seasons at Illinois Wesleyan, she played one-on-one in practices against graduate assistant coach Olivia Lett, one of the scoring greats in Titan annals.
McGraw, a senior guard, etched her name one spot above Lett’s Friday night with a postseason school-record 29 points to lead the Titans to an 83-77 victory over Marietta in the first round of the Division III NCAA Tournament in front of an energizing 1,100 fans at Shirk Center.
The 10th-ranked Titans won their seventh straight and will face No. 7 Trine (24-3) in the second round at 7 p.m. Saturday night for a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Trine beat No. 12 DePauw, 65-50, in the early game.
The durable McGraw took the floor feeling under the weather and still surpassed Lett’s mark of 28 points in 2011.
“I think I was playing on pure adrenaline,” said McGraw, who was 9 of 17 from the field with three 3-pointers. “We just all wanted this so badly.”
The Titans, playing without key reserves Raven Hughes (knee) and Sydney Shanks (wrist), committed three turnovers and missed seven shots in the first three minutes, to trail 15-6 as the first quarter closed.
IWU tightened up the defense and rallied by outscoring high-octane Marietta, 25-6, in the second quarter. McGraw had nine points over a 2-minute, 38-second stretch that lifted the Titans to a 37-25 halftime lead.
“When I got to the locker room at halftime and told our team we held them to six points in the second quarter, I don’t think they believed me,” said Titans coach Mia Smith. “That’s a really strong offensive team we played.”
IWU’s lead grew to 17 points on free throws by McGraw with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
As nervy as the first quarter was for the home partisans, it became so again in the fourth quarter as Marietta cut the lead to three points with 1:55 left.
But McGraw stuck the final dagger with a step-back 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining to provide a 78-72 cushion.
IWU improved to 12-0 this season at Shirk Center.
“It was just a great environment for women’s basketball,” Smith said. “Our crowd was into it and that just inspires us to play harder.”
Senior point guard Rebekah Ehresman, who had battled the flu this week, had 16 points and eight assists for IWU, while Nina Anderson added 11 on the strength of three 3-pointers. Normal Community graduate Kendall Sosa added 10 points off the bench in 14 minutes.
Marietta was paced by forward Corrie Burkhardt’s 22 points, while guard Amisha Herd added 20 points and eight assists.