BLOOMINGTON — The short-handed Illinois Wesleyan women’s basketball team gave Millikin the proverbial stiff arm, 78-54, in a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin contest at Shirk Center on Wednesday.
The No. 17-nationally ranked Titans, playing their first game since Sydney Shanks broke her wrist on Saturday, improved to 20-3 overall and 13-1 in the CCIW even though starting center Maddie Merritt left the game in the sixth minute after taking an elbow to the face.
Molly McGraw helped pick up the slack with 18 points and five assists for IWU while Nina Anderson added 16 points. Rebekah Ehresman chipped in 12 points, seven boards, six assists and five steals.
Making its final visit to IWU in 32 years with the retiring Lori Kerans as coach, Millikin fell to 7-16 and 2-12. The Big Blue also lost a Jan. 27 meeting with the Titans, 79-62.
To its credit, Millikin made the first half a seesaw affair featuring six lead changes.
“I know they’ve had a rough year in the CCIW, but they give us a tough game every time and they work hard,” Ehresman said. “Those girls, they want to beat us. It’s a fun, but tough game.”
McGraw got IWU going with a one-woman 7-0 run that put the Titans up, 25-19, with 5:00 left in the first half. She had 11 points by the time IWU went to the locker room with a 33-26 lead.
“When we have good shot selection, our team is a lot better,” said IWU coach Mia Smith, whose squad outshot its guest from the field, .478 to .426.
McGraw made 7 of 14 from the field, 1 of 2 from 3-point range and 3 of 3 free throws.
“Molly is hard to stop,” Ehresman said. “When she is on, she is on. She is going to hit just about everything. We’re really lucky to have her because you would really hate to have that girl on the other team.”
Adversity found Wesleyan at the 5:36 mark of the first quarter when Merritt took an elbow to the face and did not return. X-rays will be taken on Thursday.
“When we lost Maddie, we lost confidence and we got a little frazzled,” Smith said. “We’ve got to know that our bench is deep. Our freshmen are seasoned so we’re going to be OK no matter what happens.
“We played some smaller guards on their bigger posts and I thought we did a good job.”
Anderson, who started in place of Shanks, said it was a jolt to lose Merritt, too.
“We knew we had to step it up even more than we had to with Sydney out,” Anderson said. “I think we did.”
A 3-pointer by Devin Curry and a Lauren Moses basket pulled Millikin within 35-31 early in the third quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers by McGraw and Anderson sparked a 12-0 run as the Titans went up 47-31. The Big Blue never got within 11 the rest of the way.
“Especially in the fourth quarter, I thought we moved the ball nicely,” said Smith, whose team had 20 assists on 33 field goals. “Kendall (Sosa) had some beautiful looks in the fourth quarter (to finish with five assists).”
A 3-for-20 night from 3-point range caused Smith to predict her team will be facing more zone defenses.
Yanni Saddler had 12 points for Millikin, which was outscored, 38-5, in points off turnovers. Forrest’s Cassie Somers added six points, Clinton’s Haley Toohill five and Lincoln’s Faith Smith four.