The IWU Wildcats faced their fair share of adversity in their Crossroads League matchup with the Huntington Foresters on Wednesday evening.
After IWU’s stout defense in the first half helped them build a commanding double-digit lead, struggles on both ends of the floor after halftime, particularly in the third quarter, allowed the Foresters to get back into the game.
However, a strong fourth quarter by point guard Gabby Suarez, some key plays down the stretch from Anne Secrest, and steadfastness in the face of adversity proved to be the difference in a 74-66 win.
With the victory, the Wildcats ran their winning streak to a season-high six games.
“There are some things that we need to clean up, but the thing I take away was…once again, we got into a close game, the other team made a run, we took their best shot, we stopped it, [and] made a run of our own to finish the game,” IWU Head Coach Ethan Whaley said. “Over the course of the season, that builds character. That builds resolve. And it gives you confidence the next time you are in that game knowing you’ve been there before.”
Suarez scored 11 of IWU’s 23 points in the fourth quarter, knocking down crucial shots at key moments and keeping IWU calm and collected in the midst of Huntington’s comeback effort.
“Gabby, ever since she’s been here, doesn’t get rattled,” Whaley said. “She’s our leader from a competitive perspective. We knew we could count on her in big moments. She’s done that all season, so it’s not a surprise. That’s what Gabby does. When the moment is the biggest, she shines the brightest.”
While the game came down to the wire at the end, it did not start out that way.
After the two teams played to a 14-14 tie over the first seven minutes of the opening frame, the Wildcats used an 8-3 run to take a 22-17 lead into the first quarter break.
The Wildcats then dominated the second quarter, outscoring the Foresters 22-9 and executing perfectly on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, after shooting 10-of-14 in the first quarter, the Wildcats continued to hit their shots in the second, making eight of their 16 attempts from the floor and four of eight from beyond the arc. Ten Wildcats saw the floor in the second quarter, nine of whom scored.
“I felt we really moved the ball well,” Whaley said. “The ball was getting in the paint, and we were making the right rim reads and our shot portfolio was layups and rhythm threes, which is exactly what you want.”
Defensively, IWU buckled down, holding the Foresters to just three-of-16 shooting from the field and forcing seven turnovers.
Heading into the contest, the Wildcats’ main goal was to make Huntington uncomfortable with their pressure, and they did just that in the opening 20 minutes.
“Turnovers in the press are great, but what we really want to do…we want to make them play offense for 20 seconds, not 30,” Whaley said. “We sped them up, and that was huge for us early on.”
However, in the third quarter, the Foresters began to make their push.
The Wildcats, who scored seemingly at will in the first two quarters, could not buy a basket in the third quarter, making just one of their 11 field goal attempts and scoring just seven points. Conversely, the Foresters began to find their rhythm, eventually trimming a 44-26 halftime deficit to seven points, 51-44, heading into the final period.
“Give them credit. They are well-coached and they are tough, and that’s what tough teams do,” Whaley said. “They don’t quit. We didn’t get enough stops. We didn’t get enough rebounds. We hacked them – they were shooting free throws at five-six minutes in the third quarter. Because of that, we [could not] go down and get into a rhythm on the offensive end.”
Despite the Foresters’ push, however, the Wildcats never lost their focus.
And when it seemed that the Foresters would firmly grab the momentum, the Wildcats responded.
With 7:26 to play, Huntington cut the IWU advantage to 58-54, but freshman Jordan Reid, who has made tremendous strides in her first year under Whaley, answered with a field goal of her own to put the Wildcats back up by six.
Six minutes later, Anne Secrest, in the guts of the game, made two of the biggest plays.
After the Foresters cut the IWU lead to 65-63 with 1:07 to play, Secrest scored a critical basket in the post, putting the Wildcats back up by four. Moments later, she took a charge on the defensive end, and ultimately, helped secure the win for IWU.
“I praised her right after that timeout. I said, ‘that’s the winning play right there,’” Whaley said. “She…made a big play when [her] team needed it the most. That’s what Anne does.”
IWU went on to finish the game on a 9-2 run, knocking down seven of their last eight free throws in the final 40 seconds.
Suarez led the Wildcats with 18 points on six-of-11 shooting and three-of-six from beyond the arc, while Reid finished as the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer, collecting 12 points to go along with six rebounds.
An athletic specimen, and a consummate teammate on and off the court, Reid has provided a major spark in the Wildcats’ recent success, and Whaley is thrilled with the progress she has made this season.
“It’s so fun because she has a special talent, a unique talent,” Whaley said. “Nobody wants to make the people around them better more than Jordan Reid, so you mix dynamic athleticism with such a humble and unselfish heart, it’s a pretty special combination. We are happy with the way she is growing and impacting the game. She is only going to get better.”
Fellow freshman Maddie Lawrence collected nine points off the bench, while Dayton Groninger put together a solid, all-around performance with eight points, six rebounds, and six assists.
Huntington’s Alaina Rongos led all scorers with 30 points, while Sam Vaughn finished with 14.