*This story was posted to MyNAIATourney.org on March 13, 2015.
In front of a hometown crowd, the No. 1 seed Morningside Mustangs overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to take down upstart No. 5 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan by a closer than implicated score of 74-66. The Mustangs, without senior forward Ashlynn Muhl due to illness, needed big efforts from juniors Allison Bachman and Jordyn Wallenburg to outlast the Eagles.
Morningside clicked early, jumping out to an initial six-point lead with 14:35 remaining in the half. But despite the Mustangs’ hot start, the pace of play, accuracy from the three-point range and the ability to force turnovers got Oklahoma Wesleyan back in the game. After trailing for almost half of the quarter, shots finally started to fall for the Eagles and they took the lead at the 10:08 mark.
Oklahoma Wesleyan shot 35 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range on 7 of 17 shooting and finished the half with three different players in double figures. Junior Courtney Robinson led the Eagles with 12 points and three rebounds, while senior guard Nichole Tate added 10 points and six rebounds of her own in the first half.
Juniors Jessica Tietz and Wollenburg led the Mustangs in scoring at the break, adding six points apiece. Ultimately, the 13 to 4 turnover differential and 0 for 12 three-point shooting was the Achilles’ heal for the Mustangs in the first half, as Oklahoma Wesleyan maintained a 42-29 lead at halftime.
Morningside cranked up the intensity on both ends of the floor to start the second half, but in the process, first-half leading scorer Tietz picked up her fourth foul. Role players like freshman Madison Braun answered the call, totaling 14 points and 7 rebounds.
After a six-point Morningside run, the tide began to shift. Morningside Head Coach Jamie Sale credits the second-half run to his team’s victory.
“When we made our run, it got really exciting,” Sale said. “I’m just proud of our team, even with our backs against the wall, we still found a way to fight back and win.”
The Mustang full-court pressure started causing problems and suddenly the crowd became a major factor in the game. Mustang freshman Lauren Lehmkuhl made a big three-point shot followed by a nifty, turn-around jumper to take the lead for Morningside.
Oklahoma Wesleyan responded with a couple buckets before Lehmkuhl once again sparked the Mustangs and gave them a 61-59 lead with four minutes remaining. With 3:47 left in the half, Tietz fouled out, but Morningside managed to stay afloat.
Oklahoma Wesleyan’s late-game turnovers and poor three-point shooting was ultimately their demise. Morningside made multiple late-game free throws to ice the game. Bachman led the Mustangs in scoring with 17 points and six rebounds, while Braun finished with 14 points and seven rebounds of her own.
With the win, No. 1 seed Morningside moves on to face the defending national champion Saint Francis Cougars (Ind.) at 6 p.m. on Saturday.