*This was published on March 9 on MyNAIATourney.org.
Coming off their 10th straight Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference title, Davenport University (27-5) had high hopes for this year’s national tournament. The Panthers took a step in the right direction, defeating Southeastern University (24-5) 81-64.
The No. 7 seed Southeastern University Fire came out clicking on offense against No. 2 seed Davenport University, jumping out to a 9-6 lead after four minutes of play. The Fire were led by the Sun Conference Player of the Year, Christin Strawbridge, who was unstoppable early, tallying 20 first half points on 10 of 11 shooting.
“She played great,” said Southeastern Head Coach Leann Dahlstein. “She’s been a solid player for us all year and is a great kid.”
The Fire continued to add to their lead, thanks to a step-back three-pointer from senior Ali Sanders. Davenport’s Kendra Cook snagged rebounds and finished the basket on back-to-back possessions to cut the Fire lead to three. Strawbridge nabbed a rebound and finished the basket and on the following possession stroked a face-up jump shot to close the quarter for Southeastern University.
Strawbridge scored two more quick buckets to start the quarter to extend Southeastern’s lead to seven. Davenport’s Momo Neal, who finished with six first half points, got a layup to go that cut the lead to three. Two possessions later, Molly Babbs, who led the Panthers with nine first half points, scored twice to tie the game at 29.
Babbs finished a basket and one situation at the 4:14 mark of the 2nd quarter to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. Strawbridge scored five more points to close the quarter, but it was Davenport who led 41-35 at halftime.
Davenport hit a different gear in the second half, pushing their lead to 18 with 7:57 left in the third quarter. Junior Molly Babbs and senior Alex Law got it going in the second half, finishing tied with a game-high 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting and 8 of 16 shooting, respectfully.
Davenport Head Coach Robyn Sherr-Wells insists it wasn’t her halftime message that got her team going after the break.
“My message in the locker room was that we had a great second quarter, we kind of got in our rhythm, doing our things and we have to come out with a strong start in the third quarter,” she said. “ Really, it’s them. I didn’t have any crazy words of wisdom. These guys are tough in the third quarter and they came out with the confidence to come out and have a good third quarter.”
The Panthers defense limited Strawbridge to just five points in the second half, thanks to a different defensive strategy.
“We started fronting her. We did that late in the second quarter and did that in the third quarter,” Sherr-Wells said. “I thought we did a good job wearing her out.”
Davenport continued to wear out the Fire on both ends of the floor and maintained a 20-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Fire had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter, especially with Strawbridge on the bench. The Panthers executed down the stretch and hung on to win 81-64.
Davenport, who lost last year in the second round to upset-minded Tabor College, had a chance to watch their next round opponent, Dakota Wesleyan University, in today’s first game. Sherr-Wells believes the matchup against Dakota Wesleyan should be a good one.
“They’re going to be an interesting matchup for us. They play what it looks like is three post players at all times and that makes an interesting matchup for us,” she said. “On the flip side, I think it will create some tough mismatches on their side too.”
No. 3 seed Dakota Wesleyan will face off with No. 2 seed Davenport on Friday at 8:30 a.m.