BLOOMINGTON - First place was on the line, and Illinois Wesleyan's women's basketball team got the start it needed on its home court Saturday afternoon against Wheaton.
Mallory Heydorn's three-pointer gave the Titans a 12-4 lead just 5½ minutes into the game. Then the bottom fell out.
The Titans scored only seven more points in the first half and couldn't climb out of the hole, dropping a 63-49 decision before a crowd of 225 people at Shirk Center.
A win would have put Illinois Wesleyan (16-7, 8-4) back in first in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. Instead, the loss leaves the Titans 1½ games behind Wheaton (19-3, 9-2).
"We played the first five minutes of the ballgame the way we wanted to play," a disappointed IWU coach Mia Smith said. "We played pretty smooth and defended them."
Smith gave credit to the Thunder for taking control of the game.
"They outphysicaled us," she said. "They got to loose balls. They scored on second-effort putbacks where we didn't box out. I think they beat us on every position on the floor."
Heydorn led IWU with 16 points, but the freshman guard shot just 6-for-18, including 3-for-10 from three-point range. Senior forward Val Fleishman added nine points and center Katie Blonn had eight.
For the game, the Titans shot just less than 33 percent, including 7-for-27 (26 percent) in the first half. IWU held Wheaton to 41 percent shooting but lost the rebounding battle, 46-31.
"They forced us into shots that were not in our scheme," Smith said. "We had a lot of bad shots."
Blonn's jumper gave the Titans their last lead at 18-16 with about eight minutes left in the first half. After that, Wheaton closed the half with a 14-1 run.
The closest IWU got was eight points down after another Heydorn three-pointer with 11:09 remaining, but a 10-2 run over the next four minutes gave the Thunder a 57-41 lead to put the game away.
Elizabeth Fox led Wheaton with 18 points and sophomore center Jill Trenz added 17. Each had a game-high nine rebounds.
Smith said this week's games - at home Tuesday against Augustana and traveling Saturday to North Park - will be critical for the Titans as the CCIW Tournament approaches. IWU got some help when North Park and Carthage both lost Saturday, she said.
"We have to play to stay in second place," Smith said.