KENOSHA, Wis. — Maddie Merritt mastered the learning curve of wearing a facemask at the perfect time for the Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team Saturday at Tarble Arena.
Donning a mask for the first time to protect a recently broken nose, Merritt scored eight straight fourth-quarter points and IWU held off Carthage for an 85-77 victory that clinched a share of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship.
"It was very weird. I can't see dribbling at all," said Merritt. "I definitely was getting used to it."
The No. 17-ranked Titans improved to 21-3 overall and 14-1 in the CCIW. Wesleyan could claim the league title outright at Elmhurst on Tuesday.
"This is a very proud moment for us," IWU coach Mia Smith said. "The kids really hung in there. It was a great team game."
The CCIW crown is the second in three years and seventh since 2008 for Smith and the Titans.
The Titans led just 59-57 after three quarters. Rebekah Ehresman scored in the lane to open the fourth quarter scoring before Merritt reeled off three jumpers and two free throws for a 67-57 margin.
"It was Maddie. She hit a few jumpers. She was money," said Smith. "We got her the ball in good positions. I'm really proud of her handling the facemask situation."
Carthage (17-7, 10-5) battled back within four at 81-77 before Ehresman sealed the victory with four free throws in the final 19 seconds.
Ehresman topped all scorers with 21 points and matched Ashley Schneider for team rebounding honors with nine.
Molly McGraw added 19 points, Merritt 12, Schneider 10 and Nina Anderson nine.
The Reds placed six players in double figures led by Madie Kaelber with 19 and Bailey Gilbert with 12.
Both teams shot 42 percent from the field, while IWU gained a 42-39 rebounding edge.