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No. 8 Taylor hangs on for OT win over No. 16 IWU

BATTLE: Taylor’s Becca Buchs looks for a shot against Indiana Wesleyan’s Elaina Ededuwa (14) and Katie Key in the first half of the NAIA Division II No. 8 Trojans, 66-61 overtime win over the No. 16 Wildcats Wednesday night in Upland.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

UPLAND — The difference between the women’s basketball teams from Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor has been extremely small through the two Crossroads League regular season this year.

But in the battle for the league title, that difference has been huge in favor of the Trojans.

The NAIA Division II eighth-ranked Trojans led for nearly the entire 40 minutes of regulation, but an eight-plus minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter allowed the No. 16 Wildcats to erase a 13-point deficit and when Jene’e Goodwin dropped home a 10-foot baseline runner with the shot clock expiring, it brought IWU into a 55-55 tie with the Trojans with 18.5 seconds to play.

Aubrey Wright left her 17-foot jumper just short at the end of regulation for Taylor to send it to overtime. There Wright came up with the biggest play of the contest to help the Trojans secure a 66-61 win over the Wildcats and maintain their spot atop the Crossroads standing with Marian.

Indiana Wesleyan’s first lead of the night came less than 20 seconds into the extra period when senior Nicole Ignasiak scored inside to put the Wildcats in front 57-55.

That lead lasted nearly two minutes before Becca Buchs scored to tie it at 57 then 40 second later scored again and drew a foul against IWU’s Katie Key. Pleasantries were exchanged and Buchs and Key both drew technical fouls.

Buchs drained her free throw to put Taylor on top 60-57 before Margot Woughter hit 1-of-2 for the Wildcats on the technicals. Kendall Bradbury stepped to the line and hit both of her technical free throws to extend the Trojans advantage to 62-58 with 2:05 to play.

“That situation down there with the and-one and the double tech was huge,” said Taylor coach Jody Martinez. “We hit three free throws to their one and that’s a big spread.”

It remained a four-point differential over the next possession for each team, but when Jamie Netzley’s baseline jumper with the shot clock expiring came up short with less than 40 second to play, it was Wright to the rescue.

“The crazy part is I’m supposed to get back on defense but I saw the rebound was going long,” Wright said. “I felt like I could beat my man so I hustled after it, got a little tip on it and luckily my teammates were there to gather it up.”

Indeed, Wright tipped the ball into Netzley’s hands, who then returned to Wright who in turn drew a foul. The senior calmly stepped to the free throw line and sank both free throws with 32.1 seconds to play and put Taylor on top 64-58.

“Aubrey has just been my golden child because some of the stuff she does is not on the stat sheet,” Martinez said. “Second semester has been amazing with her in that role, controlling the ball, just everything. ... Aubrey does so much little things that no one sees on the sheet that only coaches understand.”

Wright finished with 10 points in the contest, but added eight rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and four steals from her guard position.

Goodwin knocked down a triple for IWU with 18 seconds to play but Bradbury and Netzley hit 1-of-2 free throws each in the final 16 seconds to secure the win for Taylor.

Taylor edged IWU in the rebounding battle, 45-41, but the Wildcats allowed 17 offensive rebounds, the final one on Wright’s hustle play in the last minute of OT.

“I can be frustrated with our team not blocking out, but give credit to Taylor, when they needed big plays they made big plays,” said IWU coach Ethan Whaley. “Whether it was Bradbury getting a bucket, Aubrey Wright, Abby Buchs getting seven offensive rebounds, whenever they needed a play they made a play and when you’re a top-10 team in the country that’s how you get there.”

Taylor took control early with a three-point barrage in the final three minutes of the first quarter. The Trojans had four different players knock down triples and took a 26-13 after one.

Lauren James hit a three for Taylor to start the second quarter and extend the lead to 16, but the Trojans went scoreless for more than five minutes and IWU used an 8-0 run to claw its way back.

Taylor led by 10 at halftime and at the end of three the extend to a 55-42 lead on Wrigth’s three with 8:15 to play. But those were the final Trojans points of regulation and the Wildcats rallied to send it to extra time.

“It happened at their place too, we were up 15 and got into a drought,” Martinez said. “I told the girls this is going to be a game of spurts, Wesleyan is spurty with the outside threat that they are. We held them to one three in the first half and they hit five in the second half. (Goodwin) hit a big shot down there and good for her.

“Some of these girls are thinking too much, they’ve never been in this situation at Taylor,” he added. “They’re at the top of the conference, the season is coming to an end, so they’re putting their own pressure on themselves and were trying to making them relax in practice, we’ve just got to pray for the best.”

Whaley added, “It was a heck of a battle, we gave up 26 in the first quarter then gave up 29 in the next three so I was proud of our effort. We lost focus there for a stretch in the first quarter and when you play great teams that what they do. I was proud of our effort and we battled to the end.”

Taylor (22-4, 13-2 in Crossroads) travels to Mt. Vernon on Saturday.

Indiana Wesleyan (18-9, 11-4) host Huntington.