In their second game of the annual Leah Whittaker Memorial Classic on Saturday evening, an early deficit, combined with poor shooting in the second half and a lack of execution from the foul line, led to the IWU Wildcats first loss of the 2019-2020 season, as they were defeated by the Lawrence Tech Blue Devils 75-61.
After shooting just 42.3 percent in the first half, the Wildcats were ice cold after halftime. In the final two quarters, they connected on just 29 percent of their shots and only nine of 18 from the free throw line.
“I was really encouraged by a lot of things we did tonight,” IWU Head Coach Ethan Whaley said. “We played hard. We got to the free throw line. We murdered them on the glass. I thought we did a good job of limiting their extra possessions. But unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize. That turns into a sloppy looking game when you can’t capitalize.”
IWU’s struggles began as soon as the ball was tipped. Behind their talented, athletic point guard, Kendall Fisher, and a 57.9 percent shooting rate, the Blue Devils jumped all over the Wildcats early, building a 23-8 lead with 1:59 remaining the period. IWU was able to cut LTU’s lead to 11 late, but a three from Fisher in the final seconds gave the Blue Devils a 28-14 lead after the first quarter.
Fisher was the best player on the court Saturday night. Despite her diminutive size, she drove to the basket well, hit open shots, and kept the Blue Devils’ offense in sync all evening.
She finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
“She’s so fast – maybe of the fastest players we will play all year,” Whaley said of Fisher. “She’s really good, and when you are playing somebody like that, you have to hope that they don’t make shots. Obviously, she made a couple. She made enough to hurt us. She was obviously the difference maker in the game.”
LTU held on to their double-digit lead through most of the second quarter, but the Wildcats began to be more assertive, attacking the basket with more ferocity and finding more high quality shots. Dayton Groninger, who scored eight points in the first quarter, was equally as impressive in the second, scoring seven points in the quarter and helping IWU cut the Blue Devils’ advantage to single digits.
“When she gets in a rhythm, she’s really good,” Whaley said of Groninger. “Obviously, she’s got to continue to figure out where her role is right now. She’s filling into a scoring role, and it’s not necessarily been her role over the last few years, so she is trying to figure out how to move, how to get herself open, and how to create shots. No doubt, I love her mentality. She’s fearless. She’ll figure it out.”
After trailing 44-34 after the first half of play, a Groninger field goal on the Wildcats’ first possession of the third quarter sparked a quick 6-0 burst, trimming LTU’s lead to just four points. The Blue Devils were able to increase their advantage back to seven, but the Wildcats made it a 52-50 game heading into the final frame.
With 7:40 remaining in the game, IWU took their first lead of the contest at 53-52 on a bucket from Elaian Ededuwa, but from that moment on, the Blue Devils took control.
Over the final 7:40 of the contest, LTU outscored the Wildcats 23-9, hitting several key shots down the stretch. While the Blue Devils were scoring points, the Wildcats’ offense stalled, eventually leading to their 14-point defeat.
Groninger led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Ededuwa collected 13 points and 10 rebounds. Jene’e Goodwin finished with nine, while Anne Secrest added seven points off the bench.
Despite the loss, however, Whaley was pleased how the team battled back after being done by double digits.
Their offense fell flat, and their free throwing has to be better once their conference schedule starts, but the early part of the season is for learning, growing, and working out the kinks. Though there were several negative in their loss, there were a lot of positives as well, and both Whaley and the team are planning to build on those positives going forward.
“I’m optimistic,” Whaley said. “I think there is room for growth, and I think this team is really ready to grow, because you don’t come back from a 17-18 point deficit early on if you’re not hungry to grow. I’m encouraged. [I’m] bummed for the loss, but [there are] a lot of things to take away – love this team.”