Marietta falls at Illinois Wesleyan in NCAA Tournament first round

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BLOOMINGTON, Illinois — Marietta College's magical women's basketball season came to an end Friday (Mar. 2) evening as No. 14 ranked Illinois Wesleyan held off the Pioneers for an 83-77 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Pioneers finish the season with a 24-5 record. Illinois Wesleyan improves to 25-3 and will face Trine University in Saturday's second round game. Trine defeated DePauw, 65-50, in the other first round match up.

"This started four years ago when we recruited this senior class. They were the ones that turned this program around," Marietta head coach Kole Vivian said. "They held their teammates accountable and put in the work in the offseason and the summer time. Without them none of this would have been possible."

Marietta's list of accomplishments this winter is one for the record books as the 2017-18 Pioneers established themselves as the best to ever wear the Navy Blue and White. A program record for wins and Ohio Athletic Conference wins, MC's first-ever national ranking, first OAC title and first NCAA Tournament appearance are just a few of the highlights.

"It's a great feeling to be able to get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time, especially with this group," Amisha Herd said. "To be able to make it here is a big deal for our program and hopefully we can build off of that."

Pioneer fans will say goodbye to five seniors off of this squad. Herd and Brooke Borich both earned first team All-OAC honors and scored over 1,000 career points.

Jenna Andersen was a mainstay in the starting lineup, while Marra Woods contributed off the bench. The final senior, Ashley Barker, suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason but was the driving force that actually predicted this success when she gave her teammates empty ring boxes several years ago with the message that they would be filling those boxes with championship rings.

Marietta jumped out to an early lead on a pair of layups from Borich and one from Herd. The Pioneers built a nine-point lead, 15-6, seven minutes into the game. A layup and free throw from Marlo Taylor and a jumper from Jo Herd-Middlebrooks quickly tuned a four-point lead into nine.

The Pioneers led 19-12 at the end of the first quarter as the Titans struggled to get its offense on track.

Illinois Wesleyan heated up in a hurry in the second quarter sinking 10-of-14 shots (71.4%), including 3-of-5 from behind the arc. While the Titans were blistering the nets, Marietta cooled off and was outscored 25-6 in the period. IWU closed out the quarter on a 20-4 run and lead 37-25 at the break.

"We've been down a lot on the road and were down 18 in our first conference tournament game at home," Vivian said. "But our team has a competitive fire in them and that showed in the second half tonight when we got the game back to a one-possession game."

The Titans increased their lead by two in the third quarter and entered the final 10 minutes with a 61-47 advantage. Marietta slowly chipped away at the deficit and a three-pointer from Herd with two minutes remaining got the Pioneers within three, 75-72.

IWU's Molly McGraw answered with a triple on the next possession to push the margin back to six. With time running out, Herd drained another three-pointer to make it a four-point game, 81-77, with eight seconds left on the clock. McGraw iced the game with a pair of free throws.

Burkhardt led the Pioneers with 22 points and eight rebounds. Herd finished with 20 points, six boards and eight assists. Borich chipped in with 12 points, while Taylor grabbed seven rebounds.

"I think we came out with a lot of energy," Burkhardt said. We did have a lull in the second quarter but we bounced back really well after halftime. That's a part of our leadership and working as a team."

McGraw led all scorers with 29 points. Rebekah Ehresman had 16 points, eight boards and eight assists. Nina Anderson added 11 points and Maddie Merritt pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.