Tabor women fall by one in first round of NAIA championships

The eighth-seeded Tabor College women’s basketball team was one point away from knocking off top-seeded Northwestern (Iowa) Thursday in the first round of the 2014 NAIA Division II women’s basketball national championships, but fell 63-62 in the end.

Three-point shooting kept Tabor within reach early, as 15 of the Bluejays’ first 19 points came from behind the arc–three from Mallory Zuercher, one from Janelle Rust and one from Kaleigh Troxell that gave Tabor a five-point lead at the 13:41 mark.

The Bluejays maintained a narrow lead, but Northwestern chipped away with baskets in the paint and took a 24-23 lead with two points inside from Karen Hutson.

The lead changed hands with every score until Kayla Wilgers drained a three and Rust followed with three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt for a 31-27 Tabor advantage at 5:03.

A burst of nine unanswered points put the Red Raiders ahead by five with 2:07 to play before the half, but Troxell closed the half with consecutive two-point and three-point baskets to send the teams into intermission locked at 36.

Northwestern scored 20 points in the paint in the first half, while 21 of Tabor’s first-half points came from behind the arc.

Tabor shot 39.4 percent from the field in the first half (13-33), including 38.9 percent from behind the arc (7-18).

Tabor’s shooting cooled in both statistical categories, however, after the break.

After a quiet first half, Tonisha Dean got on the board by scoring Tabor’s first seven points of the second half, and when Zuercher tossed in a basket, the Bluejays held a 45-40 lead. But a spell of chilly Bluejay shooting contributed to a 10-0 Red Raider run. The Bluejay scoring drought lasted more than six minutes, until Wilgers broke the ice with a three-pointer that closed the gap to 50-48 at the 11:15 mark.

From there, Northwestern built its largest lead of the half, 55-48. Nikki Lewis scored her first points of the game on a three-point play with 8:01 to play and when Dean added a basket, Tabor was within two, 55-53.

Neither team added to the score for more than three minutes, as the Bluejays forced Red Raider turnovers but could not capitalize at the other end of the court.

Northwestern added two free throws and a basket to increase its lead to six, but Tabor answered with nine straight points courtesy of Lewis, Dean and Loewen. Loewen’s two free throws at the end of that run put Tabor in front, 62-59, with 1:29 to play.

Those would be Tabor’s final points of the day, however. Northwestern added a free throw, then two Bluejay three-point attempts missed their mark.

Northwestern took a timeout with 17 seconds left trailing by two, and a Red Raider two-point attempt with only 3 seconds remaining missed its mark. Northwestern grabbed the rebound, however, and called timeout.

With just 1 second left, Northwestern’s Karen Hutson made the tying basket in the paint, but Tabor was called for a foul on the play. Hutson completed the three-point play, and after a Bluejay timeout, Tabor’s desperation attempt at a long-range shot missed the mark.

Tabor shot 35.4 percent from the field in the game (23-65), including 31 percent from three (9-29). Northwestern, meanwhile, shot 42.9 percent from the field (24-56), including 20 percent from three (3-15).

Northwestern’s Alli Engebretson led all scorers with 21 points. Samantha Kleinsasser added 16 for the Red Raiders and Hutson 13. Dean led Tabor with 14 points. Zuercher added 11.

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