By Jacob Knabel, Concordia (Neb.) Sports Information Director
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score - Bracket) In a battle between two defensive-minded teams, national championships regular and fourth-seeded Indiana Wesleyan erased a 15-point second half deficit and overcame a monster opening half from opposing post Janniqua Thomas on Thursday evening. Following the lead of their own standout in Kelsey Kay, the Wildcats toppled Dickinson State (N.D.), 68-58, in the first round of the 2016 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championships, presented by Mercy Medical Center and Seaboard Triumph Foods.
Head coach Steve Brooks' program, now 11-3 all-time in first-round games, moved to 27-7 overall on the season and will play Friday in the second round. Under Brooks, Indiana Wesleyan has captured two national titles with the most recent coming in 2013. Meanwhile, head coach Mark Graupe's group has its season end with a mark of 23-9.
The Wildcats' fortunes appeared bleak when the Blue Hawks rattled off the first seven points of the third quarter and led 40-25. Mired by shooting struggles, Indiana Wesleyan suddenly caught fire with a game-defining 22-5 surge to close out the third period. Thomas, who powered in 19 points over the game's first 20 minutes, was often hounded by Erika Isham (nine rebounds) and denied the ball in the post. Thomas had just five points in the second half.
All the big plays down the stretch were made by the Wildcats, who outscored Dickinson State, 21-13, in the final quarter. With less than three minutes to go, Key curled in a long three with the shot clock running down to push the Indiana Wesleyan lead to 58-54. The clutch shot initiated a 9-0 run that essentially put the game on ice.
Key didn't do it alone. Senior guard Jessica Brown picked an opportune time to have a career high. She took off with 10 points in the third quarter and nine more in the fourth quarter on her way to a team best 21 points. Brown made 8-of-11 shots from the field and dished out four assists. Carlee Cottrell chipped in 10 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (53.9), the Wildcats put the squeeze on Dickinson State, which shot 36.7 percent from the field over the final two quarters. No player other than Thomas reached double figures in for the Blue Hawks.
Indiana Wesleyan will get a shot at Cramer Bracket top seed Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) (28-5) at 7 p.m. CT on Friday. The Tigers defeated IU East (22-11), 110-99, on Thursday.
Dickinson State finishes their season with a 23-9 record.