Sophomore Maggie Weiers’ 15-point, 11-rebound effort carried the St. Thomas women’s basketball team (27-1) to a 71-58 victory over Martin Luther College (20-8) in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday at home.
Weiers’ second double-double in a row was the key to a second half surge by the hosts. After only leading by two points at halftime, St. Thomas outscored the Knights 41-30 after the break.
In the first 33 minutes of the game, coach Ruth Sinn said the Knights were getting the shots they wanted and were putting the Tommies out of place until later in the second half.
“It was the last 13 minutes of the game they weren’t getting the shots they (Martin Luther) wanted. They were settling for outside shots, and we were getting opportunities to rebound and run,” Sinn said.
The victory puts the No. 10-ranked Tommies into the second round against Coe College (Iowa) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Schoenecker Arena.
The Kohawks defeated the University of Wisconsin-River Falls 72-61 in Friday’s matchup to break into the second round.
The Tommies held Martin Luther scoreless in the first seven minutes of the game, rattling off eight points before the Knights made a free throw.
Weiers, who grabbed seven first-half rebounds, hit two free throws to make it a 17-6 game with ten minutes to go before half.
Though Weiers was able to capitalize from the free throw line, the team struggled. At halftime, the Tommies converted just six of 14 attempts from the line, and the Knights were able to sneak back into the game.
“That’s not a usual,” sophomore Taylor Young said. “We usually shoot very well. We do free throws every day during practice. I don’t really know what happened. I think we just got a little too excited.”
Video by Katherine Curtis and Ryan Shaver
With five minutes left in the first half, the Knights used a 7-2 run to cut the Tommies’ lead to 27-24.
Martin Luther’s Brittney Gossen hit a jumper to make it a 28-26 game, and Knights forward Hannah Hackbarth hit a floater for the eventual 30-28 halftime score.
Young said going into the second half, her team’s strategy was put the pressure on Martin Luther right away.
“We talked about just going to trap right away… once we started doing that I think we really got them rattled, and we got a few jump balls,” Young said. “Then it ended up going our way. That was sort of the turning point in the game, when they realized our press was actually really strong.”
Senior Ali Johnson hit a 3-pointer just 47 seconds into the half to get the Tommies on the board right away. Johnson scored eight points in the game, all coming in the second half.
Martin Luther guard Erica Babinec, who struggled in the first half with a zero for 7 shooting performance, scored 19 of her game-high 23 points in the second half, but it was not enough.
The Tommies shot 42 percent from the field in the second half and out-rebounded the Knights 28-12. Johnson grabbed six boards, and Smith chipped in seven.
“Maybe we weren’t balanced on offense, but we knew that we had four other people crashing the o-boards and d-boards. Everybody was moving around,” Weiers said. “We just had to box out. Once we could grab that board, we could push on offense.”
St. Thomas also improved from the free throw line in the second half, converting 11 of 16 attempts, and the Tommie bench posted a 23-12 advantage.
Young finished the game with 14 points, and Smith also scored in double-digits with 10.
“We were really excited before the game, and we had a lot of energy,” Young said. “We started off really well; we just had a little bit of a mental lapse.
After the game, Young took to Twitter and said, “To everyone that came… dear lord I love u. Honestly meant so much.”
The Tommie players hope the same support will be there for tomorrow’s home contest against Coe.
Briggs LeSavage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.