For coach Michelle Roof’s four-year tenure as North Central College’s women’s basketball coach, and since 2007 for that matter, Illinois Wesleyan has presented the Cardinals a significant challenge.
The Titans came into Wednesday’s CCIW tilt at Gregory Arena winners of 13 straight against North Central, a streak that dates back to Feb. 20, 2007. Last season’s two meetings resulted in a pair of Wesleyan wins by a combined 69 points.
Wesleyan extended the streak to 14 games with a 115-106 win, but the Cardinals showed signs of improvement against the Titans.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we came out and battled against Wesleyan,” Roof said. “We know they have a strong tradition. I’m proud of my kids for going out and fighting against them for about 34 minutes. I thought we gave it everything we had.”
Wesleyan (12-5 overall, 6-0 CCIW) held a slim 53-50 lead at the half, but the Cardinals (9-8, 2-4) were right in it. But the Titans used a 15-2 run to take an 81-61 lead and then when the Cardinals cut it to 12, a 12-3 run pushed the lead to 98-75. Wesleyan scored 49 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
“We got a little bit tentative during that stretch and that’s when they really started getting after us,” Roof said.
With the Cardinals’ high-octane attack, large deficits aren’t also that hard to overcome, however. NCC was down 114-94 with two minutes left but closed the game with a 13-1 run to provide the final margin.
“I’m definitely happy that we actually took it to them for once,” NCC junior Kelsey Cooling said. “I’m really glad that we did that. I feel like we need to make more of a push, because we definitely could have had this game.”
Cooling was a huge part of the Cardinals’ sticking with it. She tied her career high of 17 points by halftime, finishing with 28 points. She also shot 7-of-9 from three-point range, which set a new program record for three-pointers made in a game.
“She is playing like she’s possessed,” Roof said. “She had a really nice game on Saturday (against Elmhurst). We’ve asked her to step up all year long and we know she has the ability, the potential to do it. It’s just a matter of getting in your mind that you’re going to attack. It’s just giving her confidence, and when players have confidence, they’re going to rise to the occasion and play above their abilities.”
Larynn Shumaker scored 18 points for NCC. Maryssa Cladis tied a season high with 13 points for the Cardinals. Marion Boeck added 10 points.
The CCIW’s leading scorer, Colleen McMahon, led Wesleyan with 28 points. Shelby Jackson scored 23, Gabrielle Holness 21 and Katy Siebring 12.
Kasey Reaber and St. Charles East graduate Lexi Baltes each scored 12 for the Titans.