In the first quarter of their contest against Madonna on Tuesday night, the IWU Wildcats allowed 17 points.
In the final three, they only gave up 29, and that made all the difference in an 84-46 triumph at Luckey Arena – their third straight to start the season.
After allowing the Crusaders to shoot seven-of-16 in the first quarter, the Wildcats’ defense stiffened the rest of the way. In the first half, IWU held Madonna to 11-of-28 shooting, a paltry 39 percent, and held them to just six field goals after halftime.
“In the first half, they were really aggressive,” IWU Head Coach Ethan Whaley said. “They set [a lot] of ball screens in the first half. We covered it okay, but we adjusted our coverage in the second half a little bit, and we felt like we forced more jumpers than layups and free throws. When you force a lot more jumpers and finish with a rebound, you put yourself in a good spot to get stops.”
Anne Secrest continued her stellar start to the season, collecting her first double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Secrest was nearly unstoppable in the post, finishing 10-of-17 inside the arc and making her presence felt underneath the basket.
“Anne did a nice job of letting the game come to her,” Whaley said. “Early on this year, it felt like she pressed a little bit. But tonight, I was so proud of the way [she played.] She was patient. She was poised. For the most part, she made good decisions in the lane. When she does that, our team is really good.”
The Wildcats, just like in their contest against Cardinal Stritch, were aggressive in their defensive approach, getting their hands into passing lanes, creating deflections, and finding success in transition. In all, IWU forced 32 Madonna turnovers while collecting 17 steals.
Madison Davis, who came to the Wildcats as an offensive threat, has blossomed into one of their best defenders, and she showed it on Tuesday, recording three steals.
“Maddie just continues to set the tone,” Whaley said. “She came in here, and we knew she could shoot it, but that’s no longer what she’s known for or what she hangs her hat on. I’m so proud of the effort, the toughness, and the grit. She just bothers the ball and makes it hard [for opponents] to run their offense.”
The two teams played tight in the first quarter with neither team leading by more than five points. The Wildcats grabbed a 17-12 advantage with 1:49 remaining in the frame, but the Crusaders scored five straight points of their own to bring the contest even. Secrest gave IWU a 19-17 lead back with two seconds remaining on a pair of free throws.
After the first quarter, however, the Wildcats began to find their groove. The contest remained close in first five minutes of the second stanza with Madonna taking a 27-26 lead with 5:31 remaining, but Purdue Northwest transfer Kelli Damman once again provided a spark off the bench, knocking down three straight triple to put the Wildcats up 35-27, providing them a lead they would not relinquish.
“She just comes in and is instant offense,” Whaley said. “She’s only seven or eight weeks out of surgery, so she is still trying to get her legs back, but when her legs are fresh, you need to know where she is on the floor. She provided a big spark for us.”
From that moment on, the Wildcats rolled. Damman’s three treys sparked a 15-4 run to end the first half as IWU turned what was a one-point deficit into a 41-31 advantage at halftime.
IWU dominated the second half, scoring 43 points and shooting 44 percent from the field. Additionally, their defense completely shut down Madonna’s offense, holding the Crusaders to just 15 points, including just two in the third quarter, which allowed them to pull away and secure the 38-point triumph.
While Whaley is pleased with how well his team has performed so far, he is looking for the Wildcats to cut back on their turnovers and continue to improve their defensive play going forward.
“We are still a little bit careless with the ball at times,” Whaley said. “We had 18 turnovers again tonight, and you’re going to have that when you push the ball like we want too, but at the same time, there are some silly ones that we can clean up. On the defensive end, we have to put together 40 minutes of really good defense. I think we can be better.”