Without a doubt, No. 16 Indiana Wesleyan has proven to be one of the most athletic teams in the entire Crossroads League. Their blazing quickness and agility on the perimeter and reliable shooting from all over the floor play a major role in their success, while their defensive acumen is equally as impressive.
However, No. 4 Marian possesses just a bit more, and that proved to be the difference in the Wildcats 72-54 loss at Luckey Arena on Wednesday evening.
While the Knights have a plethora of scoring options like Macy Willoughby and Imani Guy at their disposal, what sets Marian apart is their defensive prowess. Not many teams are able to effectively guard IWU’s speed on all levels, but the Knights did just that, disallowing the Wildcats to find any sort of offensive rhythm.
“They can just cover space,” IWU Head Coach Ethan Whaley said. “When you feel like you’re open, you’re not, because you’ve got a ridiculous wingspan closing out to you. Then, you try to drive by, and then they’ve got more length coming to block the shot. They are very good. They do a nice job of running you off the line and making you go to your second and third option in your offense. Over 40 minutes, that’s tough to go against. They executed their gameplan extremely well, and they kicked our butts.
“Over 40 minutes, 94 feet, both ends of the floor, they are coming at you and they are attacking. That’s why they’ve won so many league championships in a row.”
The Knights pressured the Wildcats throughout the contest, forcing 18 turnovers and holding IWU to just 18-of-47 shooting from the field (38.3 percent). Additionally, after making 17 triples in their win over Grace, the Wildcats made just three-of-15 (20 percent) from the perimeter against the Knights.
“It was just so choppy,” Whaley said. “We never really had sustained two, three, four possessions in a row where we got in a rhythm. Any good offense, if you are going to be good, you have to have those types of stretches. I do think we had spurts, possessions here and there where we developed a rhythm and got the shots we wanted, just too little, too late.”
The Knights came out firing in the first quarter, knocking down three triples in the first 4:31 of game action to take an 11-2 lead.
The Wildcats pushed back in the final two minutes of the frame, as Baylie VanDkyle scored on back-to-back possessions as part of a 6-2 IWU spurt to trim the Knights lead to just five. However, a basket in the paint by Kinnidy Garrard, followed by a steal and score by Marian point guard Abby Downard, gave the Knights a 17-8 lead at the first quarter break, and the Wildcats were unable to recover.
Garrard scored the first points of the second quarter, putting the Knights up by 11, and Marian held that double-digit advantage the rest of the way.
“If you boil this down, they just wanted this game more than we did in all facets,” Whaley said. “It showed itself in who took more charges, who got on more loose balls, and who got their hands on more deflections. Credit them, they were well-coached [and] we were out-toughed and out-played tonight.”
Only two Wildcats finished in double figures, with Dayton Groninger leading the way with 12 points to go along with six rebounds, while Maddie Lawrence scored 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Jordan Reid scored nine, while VanDyke, Maddie Davis, Anne Secrest, and Gabby Suarez each added five.
For Marian, Willoughby scored 16 points, while Guy scored 14, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter.
While Whaley was disappointed with the final result, he and the team know that this contest will prepare them for the Crossroads League Tournament, and beyond. Now, the goal is to finish the season strong.
“It was one game. It was a clunker of a game, but it was one game, and we have three more to go,” Whaley said. “That’s where our minds are at. Let’s move on, watch the film and learn from it.”