Lexi Ackerman made two free throws with two seconds left to lift Morningside to a 59-57 victory in the closest NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship Game in history. Photo / Jamie Byrnes
Lexi Ackerman made two free throws with two seconds left to lift No. 1-ranked Morningside to a 59-57 victory against No. 3 Concordia in Tuesday’s NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship Game in Sioux City’s Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena.
The victory enabled the Mustangs to avenge their only setback in a 37-1 season after they had lost 80-72 against the same Bulldogs in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) Tournament Championship Game exactly two weeks earlier on March 3.
Concordia finished with a record of 35-3, with all three losses coming against Morningside.
Morningside won its fourth NAIA II National Championship during the Jamie Sale coaching era, joining its previous title teams of 2004, 2005, and 2009.
The Mustangs had to overcome adversity to win their latest title, as they marched through the tournament field with five victories while playing without their most decorated player, three-time first-team All-GPAC forward Ashlynn Muhl, who underwent season-ending surgery one day before the tournament began.
Muhl’s understudy, junior forward Jessica Tietz, stepped up admirably and was named the tournament’s MVP after she led the Mustangs with 17 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in the title game for her second double-double of the tournament. Ackerman joined her in double figures with 14 points, followed by Allison Bachman with seven tallies and Taylor Bahensky and Mallorie Moore, each with six. Bachman, a spark off the Mustangs’ bench throughout the tournament, was named to the all-tournament second team.
Jordyn Wollenburg, recipient of the tournament’s Hustle Award, grabbed 12 rebounds to share game honors with Tietz and help lead the Mustangs to a 47-40 advantage on the boards. Mandy Osborne also played a significant role in the Mustangs’ rebounding prowess with nine caroms off the bench.
Tracy Peitz led Concordia with 15 points, followed by Bailey Morris with 14 and Kelsey Hizer with 10. Morris, the NAIA Division II National Player of the Year, added a game-high eight assists. Becky Mueller led the Bulldogs on the boards with 10 rebounds, while the senior Hizer had nine caroms to finish one board shy of a double-double in her collegiate finale.
The Mustangs shot just 29.0 percent for the game, but offset their cold shooting with a favorable 20-9 differential in the turnover count.
Morningside trailed by seven points, 38-31, early in the second half and was down by four points, 57-53, with just 1:56 left to play after the Bulldogs’ Jericca Pearson scored off an offensive rebound.
The Mustangs closed within 57-56 when Tietz turned an offensive rebound into a conventional 3-point play with 1:27 left, and then tied the score at 57-57 when Tietz made one of two free throws with 55.8 seconds left.
The Mustangs’ defensive play, which kept them in the game all night while their shooters struggled, came up with a huge stop when the shot clock ran out on Concordia.
That set the stage for Ackerman, who was fouled with two seconds left on a drive to the basket and then made both free throws to account for the closest winning margin in NAIA II Championship Game history.
The Mustangs had led for only three minutes prior to the final score. Morningside took its first lead of the night at 42-41 when Ackerman made a pair of free throws with 12:17 left and held the lead until Peitz scored off an offensive rebound to put Concordia back in front 45-44 with 9:16 left.
Morningside never led in the first half and trailed by as many as 12 points after a steal and layup by Peitz put the Bulldogs up 26-14 with 5:26 left in the half. Morningside, which misfired on 17 of its first 22 shots of the game, staged a mini 10-4 scoring run at the end of the half to close within 30-24 at the intermission.
Peitz and Hizer each had eight points to lead Concordia at the break. Morris, a two-time GPAC Player of the Year and the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer with 2054 career points, had only five points in the first half, but dazzled as a playmaker with eight assists, including assists on seven of her team’s first 10 baskets of the game.
Tietz was the Mustangs’ first half standout with nine points and 10 rebounds, while Moore, who saw only limited minutes during the regular season, came up big off the bench with six points and a pair of steals.