BLOOMINGTON — After the Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team and visiting Carroll traded buckets for most of the first quarter, the guest Pioneers were still well within striking distance with 3:35 remaining in the second period when IWU coach Mia Smith called a timeout.
"We just needed to get our intensity up," said Titan senior and team leader Rebekah Ehresman. "(Smith) reiterated that we needed to get some kind of fire going and defensively we needed a little bit more personal responsibility."
The Titans responded with a 14-4 scoring run to turn a 32-25 lead into a 46-29 halftime advantage.
They cruised the rest of the way to an 87-58 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin win before a Senior Night crowd of 700 on Saturday at Shirk Center.
No. 14 nationally-ranked IWU improved to 19-3 overall and 12-1 in the CCIW, rebounding from a loss Wednesday at Wheaton that ended a 16-game winning streak.
Smith said the team returned to practice Thursday determined to let the losses remain few and far between while preparing to face Carroll, a team they had defeated 89-46 on Jan. 20.
"We practiced very well," she said. "I thought we looked like we knew we needed to fix some things and I thought we tried. Then we got back into a ballgame and we reverted back to our old habits."
Among the old habits was not converting on turnovers and missing easy shots early on that partially enabled Carroll to stay close for much of the first half.
"We've been starting ballgames that way and I guarantee you that's something (where) I'm going to look at the film," Smith said. "If that's a starting lineup problem, if that's a player personnel problem, I'm going to be watching that because we've got to start quicker."
Smith enjoys the luxury of a deep bench when pondering personnel matters. IWU outscored Carroll 37-10 in bench points with junior guard Nina Anderson leading the way with a game-high 22 points.
Anderson launched the Titans' late second quarter scoring spurt with a 3-pointer from the top and buried another three later in the run. She ended 5 of 6 from 3-point range and piled up her 22 points in just 20 minutes.
"That's exactly the way Nina's been playing the past two weeks," said Smith. "She's been great in practice, she's been good in ballgames. I just want her to keep going."
In addition to seeing Anderson lead the Titans' offense, Smith was especially pleased with her defensive effort.
"The fact that she had four steals is so exciting to me," Smith said. "We moved her to the back of the press instead the front of the press. She can see the floor very well. She had a great game."
IWU had 18 steals in forcing 25 Carroll turnovers.
Central Catholic grad Sydney Shanks also had four steals before going down with an injury midway through the third quarter. Shanks did not return and had an ice pack on her left arm following the game.
Ehresman, an El Paso-Gridley product, contributed three steals and was just an assist shy of a triple-double after being feted prior to the game in Senior Night festivities. She had 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
"It's very surreal," Ehresman said. "I'm just appreciative of all the fans that came out to support us all these years. My mom was starting to tear up when we were walking out for the Senior Night thing. It's a blessing to have been at Wesleyan and to have the support that I've had and I'm really going to miss it."
Central Catholic product Molly McGraw, the second leading scorer in IWU history, added 17 points Saturday while also being honored prior to the game.
Kelsey Walsberg is the only other senior on the squad and contributed three points and four assists.
Carroll (7-15, 4-9) was led by Brittney Wald's 18 points.