SIOUX CITY, IOWA 3-10-2011 – When the Indiana University Northwest Lady RedHawks found themselves down 10-2 early in their first-round matchup against Iowa’s third-ranked Morningside College in the NAIA D-II National Tournament on Thursday, it looked like maybe they were headed for a repeat of last year’s 53-point thumping at the hands of eventual champion Northwestern College.
But IU Northwest’s women’s team is one year older and 30 games wiser than the squad that made the school’s first-ever national tourney appearance a year ago. They went to Sioux City to compete.
And, while the 76-61 loss wasn’t what any of them had wished for, the Lady RedHawks at least gave notice to the NAIA that they are a force to be reckoned with in the league, and that they will be back.
“It’s been a long season, and I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about next year,” said RedHawk head coach Ryan Shelton after the game. “But despite how it ended, I’m really proud of what our team accomplished this year and we’re going to enjoy it for a while.”
The RedHawks (22-9) certainly gave the Morningside Lady Mustangs (27-6) a good scare. After nursing a double-digit deficit for about eight minutes of the first half, the Lady RedHawks revved up their offense and charged back into the game.
Sharon Houston led the way, of course, with 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half. And IU Northwest enjoyed success at the line, shooting 12-for-17 in the first 20 minutes and 23-for-33 for the game. Meanwhile, their disciplined defense limited Morningside’s charity trips to just four, good for two points, in the opening half.
Morningside came in determined to shoot the three, but they hit only two in the opening half. The RedHawks, meanwhile, stuck pretty much to the inside game with Houston and a balanced supporting cast of scorers. But their early shots didn’t fall often, and that allowed Morningside to jump ahead.
At one point, the Mustangs led 25-12, but with Houston in the paint and Juliette Keller and Nina Wills at the line, and timely buckets by Jenelle Kapelinski and Marissa Butler, the RedHawks edged their way back into the contest and went into halftime trailing only 33-30.
About four minutes into the second half, IU Northwest grabbed its first lead ever in an NAIA Tournament game, off a bucket by senior Ashley Michalski. Morningside’s big gun, Tanaeya Worden, answered with a field goal, but Houston put down two to push the score to 40-39.
Houston later gave Northwest its final lead of the game with a pair of free throws. But Worden uncorked a three to make it 44-43, and it was the opening salvo of a 15-0 run that would, in essence, decide the game. Northwest never again came closer than 10 points.
“We had our chances, let’s put it that way,” Shelton said. “We just didn’t execute well enough down the stretch to win it.”
Turnovers under pressure plagued the Lady RedHawks for much of the night. They gave the ball up 27 times to the Lady Mustangs’ 13. Northwest outrebounded Morningside 52-43, but the Mustangs had more success from behind the arc in the second half and finished 7-for-37 from distance.
“Against their press, we knew we’d have trouble if we didn’t make good decisions about what to do with the ball,” Shelton said. “But Morningside didn’t shoot the ball well, so that kind of evened things out even with our turnovers. We could have gotten it done if we’d just held our composure a little bit better during that last 10 minutes.”
Houston scored 22 for the game on 9-for-14 shooting and had 14 rebounds. Wills scored eight points, including 6-for-7 from the line, but foul trouble in the second half limited her minutes.
Keller scored seven, including 4-for-7 from the line and one trey. Senior Kapelinski scored seven, including a three-pointer to end the game, and fellow senior Michalski put down six points to go with 10 rebounds.
Worden led all scorers with 25 points for Morningside. Chelsie Trask was the only other Mustang to break double digits with 10.