BLOOMINGTON, ILL. -- The No. 7 nationally-ranked Trine University women's basketball team advanced to the "Sweet 16" round of the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in program history following a 79-70 win against Illinois Wesleyan University led by career-high performances from senior Kayla Freeman (Battle Creek, Mich./Battle Creek Central) and junior Cassidy Williams (Archbold, Ohio/Archbold).
Freeman led all scorers with her game and career-high 21 points on eight-of-13 shooting (61.5 percent). Williams was second on the team in scoring with her career-best 20 points while shooting seven-of-nine (77.8 percent), including three-of-five (60.0 percent) from three-point range.
Junior Brandi Dawson (Garrett, Ind./Garrett) fell a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points scored and a game-high nine rebounds. Senior Hayley Martin (Auburn, Ind./DeKalb) rounded out the high scorers for Trine with 13 points.
As a team, the Thunder shot 59.6 percent (31-of-52) for the game and 42.9 percent (six-of-14) from long range.
The win also improves Trine's season record to 26-3 which sets a single-season record for victories.
Illinois Wesleyan (25-4) led by six points, 12-6, late in the first quarter, but an 8-0 scoring run by Trine put the Thunder ahead by four points, 16-12, with just under two minutes to go in the period. The Titans made it a one-possession game with a pair of free-throws on their next possession, but Trine equaled its earlier lead thanks to a layup by Dawson to end the scoring and send the Thunder into the second quarter, leading, 18-14.
Trine led throughout the second quarter and quickly extended its lead to seven points, 25-18, at the 8:16 mark following a three-pointer by Williams. The Thunder defense held the Titans to just 27.3 percent (three-of-11) shooting with most of their points coming at the free-throw line where Illinois Wesleyan made nine-of-11 attempts (81.8 percent). IWU got to within six points, 35-29, with 1:47 left, but Trine scored the final five points of the half, all from Williams, to take its largest lead to that point with an 11-point halftime advantage, 40-29.
After the break, Trine continued to lead and recorded its largest margin of the game of 14 points, 52-38, at the 3:48 mark on a triple by Freeman. IWU later cut the deficit in half to make it a seven-point game, 54-47, with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter. A three-pointer by junior Montana Martin (Columbia City, Ind./Churubusco) was the final points of the period and bumped the Trine lead back to double figures, 57-47, heading into the fourth quarter.
A layup by Freeman to begin the scoring in the final quarter, extended the lead to 12 points, 59-47, when the Titans got back into the game with a 10-2 run to narrow the gap to single digits and trail by just four points, 61-57, with 7:45 to go. IWU later pulled to within two points, 63-61, at the 6:09 mark when back-to-back layups by Hayley Martin and Dawson gave Trine some breathing room with a six-point lead, 67-61. The Titans would not get any closer than four points the remainder of the game as Trine began to pull away and led by 11 points with a little over a minute left en route to capturing the 79-70 victory.
IWU had four players score in double figures, led by Molly McGraw with 20 points.
Trine advances to face No. 2 nationally-ranked Wartburg (Iowa) College in a "Sweet 16" game that will be played on Friday, Mar. 9 in Waverly, Iowa. The game is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EST.