MOUNT PLEASANT – Brittney Wilson (Sr.-Cedar Rapids, Iowa) scored a lay-up and hit three free throws in the final two minutes, helping Iowa Wesleyan College come up with the big plays down the stretch for a 60-53 win over Mount Mercy College in the Midwest Collegiate Conference Women’s Basketball tourney championship game Monday night at Ruble Arena.
The top-seeded Tigers (22-9 overall) backed up their MCC regular season title and earned the conference’s automatic berth to the NAIA Division II National Tournament, to be held March 11-17 in Sioux City, Iowa. IWC also made it a sweep of this year’s MCC basketball tournaments, as the women’s title came one day after the Tiger men won the men’s tournament championship.
The Wesleyan women also completed a second straight undefeated season at home and have now won 25 straight games at Ruble Arena. Unlike most of those victories which came with the Tigers playing at their usual relentless pace and blitzing opponents, though, this time the Tigers had to get the job done in a different fashion to win.
IWC came back from a seven-point second half deficit and emerged from a defensive battle to hold off the #3 seed Mustangs, who dictated the game’s tempo and created a number of nervous moments for Tiger fans. Mount Mercy was able to slow down the Wesleyan running game and led for most of the game’s middle portion, taking the lead late in the first half and holding it for much of the second half.
The Mustangs led by as many as seven points at 35-28 after Jessie Dirks hit a three-pointer with 18:01 left, part of a stretch of four three-pointers early in the second half for the visitors. From there, though, Mount Mercy went cold, making just three of their final 22 field goal tries the rest of the game, including a stretch of nearly ten minutes in the second half without a field goal.
The Tigers had their own share of dry spells and cold shooting, most of it coming in the game’s first 30 minutes. Wesleyan shot just 34.6% in the first half and saw a number of good shots roll off the rim but continued to hang around. IWC finally got the lead back when Brittany Okland (Sr.-Kelley, Iowa) scored on a rebound and putback to make it 45-44 with 6:53 left in the game.
After Okland banked in a jumper in the lane to give Wesleyan the lead again at 47-46, the Tigers would score just one more field goal the rest of the game. Defense kept IWC in the game, though, for the Mustangs would score just two more field goals themselves the rest of the way.
The Tigers’ one field goal in that final 6:14 would be a big one, and it came from an unlikely source. Wesleyan got a lift in the final minutes from Wilson, a reserve guard whose senior year has been plagued by injuries. Wilson averaged nine minutes a game this season, but her drive and lay-up with 1:40 left gave the Tigers a 53-50 lead.
Wilson then hit a pair of free throws for a five-point lead, and after two free throws by the Mustangs made one of two foul shots to again make it a two-possession game. IWC got a stop on its next possession, and Okland and Ali DeVries (Jr.-Bellevue, Iowa) hit four free throws in the final 24 seconds to sew up the win.
Heather Larson (Jr.-Canton, Ill.) led Wesleyan with 13 points, all coming in the second half. DeVries and Rachel Mitchell (Sr.-Des Moines, Iowa) both added 12 points and Wilson finished with eight. Okland led the Tigers with 11 rebounds.
IWC shot 36.4% (20-for-55) from the floor but held the Mustangs to 31.1% shooting (19 of 61). Mount Mercy was led by Shanda Novak, who controlled the inside with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Mustangs likely saw their season end at 24-9 overall, completing a terrific comeback season that saw a 14-win improvement over last year, when the team finished 10-20 and placed sixth in the MCC.
Wesleyan has now won three of the past four MCC tourney titles and is headed to the national tourney for the third time in four years. It’s the second time in four years that both IWC basketball teams have advanced to nationals, as the Tigers also swept the MCC men’s and women’s basketball tourneys in 2006.
For more information regarding the IWC basketball programs or any of the Tiger athletic teams, contact sports information director Adam Glatczak (319-385-6306 phone; 319-385-6384 FAX; firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail) or log on to IWC's athletics web site at www.iwc.edu/athletics.
Box score #1 IWC 60 #3 MMC 53