Morningside posted an opening round victory in the first round of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship for the 14th year in a row when the 11th-ranked Mustangs defeated No. 22 Siena Heights 90-73 Thursday night in Sioux City’s Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena.
The Mustangs will take a 24-8 record into a second round contest against No. 7 College of the Ozarks at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Bobcats won their opening round contest by an 81-62 margin over Reinhardt.
Friday’s second round game will be a rematch from an earlier meeting in the regular season when Morningside trounced the Ozarks 83-63 on Dec. 3 in Sioux City.
Thursday’s opening round contest pitted a pair of teams that finished third in their respective conferences during the regular season. The Mustangs, one of five teams in the national tournament field from the powerhouse Great Plains Athletic Conference, were too much for a Siena Heights team that was one of three representatives from the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference.
Madison Braun scored a game-high 29 points for the Mustangs and burned the Saints from long range with a dazzling seven-for-10 shooting performance from the 3-point arc. Lexi Ackerman also had a big night with 23 points and freshman Sydney Hupp joined them in double figures with 10 tallies. Lauren Lehmkuhl was next with six points, followed by Taylor Bahensky and Jordyn Moser, each with five.
Siena Heights had four plays score in double figures. Saints’ standout April Watson, one of the nation’s leading scorers and rebounders, led the way with 19 points and a game-high 17 rebounds for her 22nd double double of the season. Demi Russell contributed 15 points off the bench, going 11-for-14 from the free-throw line, and starters Jaaliyah Arrington and Clara Waidley chipped in with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
The 17 rebounds by Watson and 13 caroms from Sharmaine Wills paced the Saints to a commanding 51-36 rebounding advantage. Lehmkuhl pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for the Mustangs while leading them on the boards for the 19th time this season. Lehmkuhl also topped all performers with five assists.
The Mustangs’ defensive pressure rattled the Saints into 22 turnovers and a dismal 34.4 percent shooting performance.
Morningside broke away to a 21-13 lead by the end of the first quarter in a period where Watson scored 10 of the Saints’ 13 points. Watson made four of six field goal attempts, while the rest of the Saints went just one for seven in the opening stanza.
Braun led the Mustangs with eight first quarter points and made a 3-pointer during a pivotal 8-0 Mustang scoring run that gave them a 19-11 advantage after the teams had been tied at 11-11.
After her big first quarter, Watson was scoreless and able to get off only one shot in the second quarter when the Mustangs pulled away. Morningside pushed its lead into double figures when Hupp scored the first basket of the second quarter to increase the Mustangs’ advantage to 23-13. The Mustangs eventually built their lead to 40-23 at the intermission when Braun made a 3-pointer from just inside the half court line at the buzzer.
Siena Heights crept within 10 points, 44-34, when Watson scored with 5:41 left in the third quarter for her first basket since the opening period.
Morningside led 61-47 after three quarters and eventually increased its lead to a game-high 23 points on four occasions in the fourth quarter, the last time at 81-58 when Moser struck from 3-point range with 4:17 left in the contest.