Morningside routed Rio Grande 97-69 in the first round of the NAIA II Women’s Basketball National Championship.
Thirteenth-ranked Morningside defeated No. 20 Rio Grande 97-69 in Thursday night’s first round action of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship in Sioux City to win its opening round game for the 15th year in a row.
The Mustangs will take a 22-11 record into Friday’s second round, where they will play an 8:45 p.m. contest against fourth-ranked Saint Xavier, which defeated Tabor 67-47 in its first round contest. Saint Xavier defeated the Mustangs 83-75 earlier this season on Nov. 4 in the Morningside Classic.
Rio Grande, the East Division champion of the River States Conference (RSC) and RSC Post-Season Tournament champion, closed the books on a 30-4 season. The RedStorm fell to 0-7 all-time in NAIA National Tournament contests, while the four-time NAIA Division II National Champion Mustangs improved their all-time record in national tourney competition to sparkling 39-12.
Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) Player of the Year Madison Braun used the national tournament stage to show case her abilities, pouring in a game-high 27 points to go along with a game-high seven steals. Braun led the Mustangs in scoring for the 15th time in their last 18 games. Braun, who was already at 20 points by the intermission, posted her 16th scoring performance of 20 points or more this season and raised her career total to 1956 points, good for fourth place on Morningside’s all-time scoring list. Braun, the NAIA II national leader in 3-point field goals, raised her season’s total to 126 treys to move within four 3-pointers of the Morningside record of 130 3-pointers by Kate Lokken in the Mustangs’ 2003-04 NAIA II National Championship season.
Three of Braun’s teammates joined her in double figures. Sydney Hupp, a second-team All-GPAC selection, was next with 15 points, followed by GPAC Freshman of the Year Sierra Mitchell with 14 points and fellow freshman Mady Maly with 13 tallies. Maly bombed in three of five 3-point field goal attempts en route to her team-high seventh double figure scoring performance off the bench. Rachelle Housh was next with seven points, followed by Jordyn Moser and Lauren Lehmkuhl with six each.
Housh led the Mustangs with eight rebounds, followed by Lehmkuhl with seven and Moser and Grace Meyer, each with six. Housh finished one carom shy of a career high with her eight rebounds.
Braun made two early 3-point field goals and Mitchell also struck from 3-point distance to stake the Mustangs to an early 12-7 lead less than two minutes into the contest. The Mustangs led 14-9 before the RedStorm went on an 8-0 scoring run capped by a 3-pointer by Nia McCormick that put Rio Grande in front 17-14 with 3:08 left in the quarter. The RedStorm led by four points, 21-17, after a drive to the basket by Jaida Carter with 1:43 left in the quarter. Morningside scored five straight points to take a 22-21 lead late in the quarter before the RedStorm’s Kamryn Conaway made a basket at the horn to give Rio Grande a 23-22 lead at the quarter break.
The Mustangs scored first in the second quarter when a basket by Hupp put them in front 24-23 with 9:34 left in the second quarter. The Mustangs never trailed again after the Hupp basket. The Mustangs stretched their lead into double figures for the first time when a fast break layup by Mady Maly put them up 41-31 with 4:02 left before the intermission. Rio Grande cut its deficit in half and trailed 43-38 with 1:33 left in the quarter before a 3-pointer by Maly and a basket by Mitchell put the Mustangs back up by 10 points, 48-38, at the intermission.
The Mustangs put the RedStorm away when they outscored them 27-16 in the third quarter to open an insurmountable 75-54 advantage going into the final 10 minutes.
Morningside eventually increased its lead to a game-high 32 points, 96-64, on a basket by Erin Schleicher with 1:01 left to play.