December 7, 2023
By Riley Zayas
Any question marks still remaining about Illinois Wesleyan’s belonging in the Top 25 were quickly erased on Wednesday night. The Titans went to Wheaton, a quality CCIW program who started the season especially strong, and made a complete statement, running away with a 74-49 victory behind a surge in the second and third quarters.
Holding Wheaton, who has an All-America caliber guard in Annie Tate, to just 49 points is incredibly impressive. The Thunder hung with the Titans for the first quarter, as IWU led 19-17 after 10 minutes, but over the next 20 minutes, Wheaton tallied just 20 points, struggling as IWU stepped up its defensive pressure. The Titans are known for their full-court pressure, and it proved especially impactful in this road victory, as IWU forced 26 turnovers, leading to 30 points. And conversely, the Titans took care of the ball especially well, with just 13 turnovers.
This was a performance worthy of recognition, because more than just the final numbers, IWU played with such an intensity and cohesiveness that was evident watching the game unfold. As I posted on X/Twitter last night, IWU is a Top 15 team right now, in my opinion. The Titans’ two losses came at Hope (by 7) and vs UW-Whitewater (by 2). Along with that, according to D3 WBB stats guru Scott Peterson, Wheaton is currently projected to have a good shot at being regionally-ranked, which gives IWU yet another RRO win. He noted that according to his numbers, IWU now has the third-most RRO wins in the nation, at 3.1. Very impressive.
When you consider they have played the last two games without standout guard Lauren Huber, that makes yesterday night’s win and the Carroll win all the more notable. Ava Bardic did return to the court against Wheaton, which was great to see, after she suffered a non-contact knee injury against Elmhurst on Nov. 30. Bardic contributed with seven points and three assists in 17 minutes, and Kate Palmer had another outstanding performance, leading the Titans with 18 points. Mallory Powers added 16, and Sara Balli had 12 off the bench. And it is more than just the scoring, too.
The defensive communication is top-notch, which will keep IWU in games throughout this season whether the Titans shoot the ball well or not, and that obviously proves invaluable because cold shooting days will happen. That said, the depth on this roster allows for anybody to step up as the leading scorer on any given night, and so far, IWU has had that. This rotation is playing at such a high level right now. Circle Dec. 16 on your calendars, because that will be a must-see matchup as IWU makes the trip to play Chicago in what should be a Top 25 duel. Big-time Region 8 matchup there.
DeSales’ defensive effort gives way to Bulldogs’ seventh straight win
Moving on…I thought DeSales was another team who did a fantastic job on the defensive end yesterday (no surprise there!) against Messiah. The Bulldogs pulled out a 64-46 victory, winning their seventh straight. While Messiah shot 42% from the field, DeSales completely kept Messiah off of the offensive boards, as Messiah tallied just three offensive rebounds and zero second-chance points. I thought DeSales’ full-court press was extremely effective against Messiah, as it challenged the Falcons in bringing the ball up the court in transition. Messiah turned the ball over 16 times leading to 17 points for DeSales. Key stat right there.
Gettysburg dominates in 30-point win over Dickinson in Centennial Conference
Gettysburg added another big win to its resume, taking down Dickinson in Centennial Conference play, as the Bullets improved to 6-2. Gettysburg jumped out to a 23-9 run and closed the game on an 18-7 run, leading to the Bullets’ 68-38 victory. I thought the offensive rhythm was outstanding, as Gettysburg shot 49.1% and was 9-of-19 from 3-point range. Considering the way Dickinson has been playing so far this season (which includes beating Messiah), a 30-point victory is huge.
Marymount gets past Randolph-Macon in key victory for the Saints
Marymount also scored a big win, defeating Randolph-Macon, 56-48, who was 6-3 overall. The Saints outrebounded RMC by 12, 35-23, which was key in this victory, including 11-3 on the offensive boards. Marymount’s critical stretch came in the third quarter, as the Saints opened the second half by outscoring RMC 23-14. This was a game Marymount really had to win and it was great to them pull out that victory, especially against a team that should be pretty competitive in the ODAC this season.
Kranson comes through with career day for Scranton
Kaci Kranson came through with 33 points in #6 Scranton’s 87-47 win over Drew, as the sophomore posted an outstanding stat line. She shot 13-of-19 from the field, 3-of-4 from 3-point range, grabbed nine rebounds (5 offensive), dished out two assists, and tallied three steals. Incredible effort both ends of the floor…just had to make sure I mentioned that stat line! Even in a one-sided win, scoring 33 is still pretty impressive.
Vassar notches key Liberty League win over Skidmore
Vassar defeated Skidmore, 64-51, in a game that could absolutely come into play come NCAA Tournament time, as those two are just behind Ithaca in the Liberty League title race. In the case that Ithaca gets the Pool A, the Liberty League has a good chance to put either Vassar or Skidmore in the tournament, but not both. This is likely a two-bid league, which made last night’s matchup all the more meaningful. Obviously, they’ll meet again in conference play, on Jan. 9, but Vassar looked fantastic, and likely picked up an RRO win in the process. It was the 19-9 start that really put Vassar in a position to control the game for the next three quarters, and while it was competitive throughout, Vassar separated itself as the better team on the court last night. Sierra McDermed posted a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double for Vassar as all five Vassar starters played at least 30 minutes. Not sure about the depth on the roster for them, but the starting five looked really strong against a talented Skidmore team.
Gerig scores 43 in an outstanding performance, but Smith takes down Williams, 76-68
I’ll wrap this up by congratulating Smith on getting past Williams, because Williams is increasingly getting better and better as the weeks progress. #10 Smith emerged with a 76-68 win last night over Williams and we were treated to some high-scoring individual performances. Arianna Gerig was fantastic for Williams, scoring 43 points on a 17-of-29 shooting day. On the other side, Sofia Rosa had 25 points and 10 boards for Smith, and Ally Yamada added 20 points for the Pioneers in the win. It was a well-played contest and Smith continues to win games against quality non-conference teams. While I was a little unsure of what we’d see from Smith this season, Rosa has made an immediate impact and overall, the Pioneers have several talented contributors who have stepped up. Smith is now 6-1 overall.
Games to watch today (all tip-off times are eastern)
#13 Trinity (CT) at Roger Williams, 7:00 p.m.—Trinity is the favorite here, but RWU could stay competitive. RWU beat Babson earlier in the year, and has won four straight coming into this one.
Maine Maritime at Husson, 7:30 p.m.—Conference games seem to bring out the best in teams, and both Maine Maritime and Husson have begun NAC play with wins. These two are likely to be in the hunt for the conference title later in the season, and this is definitely a game I see being decided late.