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Thomas More women ‘survive and advance’ for 3rd straight year into NAIA ‘Fab Four’ semifinals

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

This is what you do this time of year, even when things aren’t coming all that easy. You hang in there.

“It’s survive and advance,” said Thomas More women’s coach Jeff Hans after his defending national champion Saints’ 66-62 win over Montana Western in Wednesday night’s NAIA national quarterfinals at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We beat a really good team,” Hans said of the Dillon, Mont., team that finished 28-6. “And we’re fortunate to be in the national semifinals for the third straight year.”

The win earns Thomas More (30-3), the overall No. 4 NAIA seed, a semifinal matchup for the second straight year against overall No. 1 seed, unbeaten Central Methodist (35-0) out of Missouri at 7 p.m. tonight.

TMU’s Zoie Barth and Alex Smith

“We beat them in the (NAIA) semifinals last year,” Hans said. Asked if he could recall the score, he said “I have no idea.” We do. It was TMU 82, Central Methodist 62 in a blowout.

Hans says he has an extra day to figure things out, he said. The Saints got a 50-minute practice session at Tyson Thursday.

Continuing her tear through the tournament for Thomas More was the Saints’ junior super-sub, Alex Smith, who came off the bench for a game-high 24 points in 29 minutes. Senior Emily Simon, who had to go to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, added 13 points with senior Zoie Barth contributing 11.

“That we were able to lead by four points, 28-24, at halftime was big,” Hans said after an 11-0 early run gave TMU a 16-9 lead in the first quarter.

Even bigger was the way Thomas More gradually pulled away in the final period, leading by as much as seven, 66-59, with four seconds left before Montana Western hit a three at the buzzer.

“We were able to get some stops and attack on offense and made some big plays,” Hans said as TMU retook the lead for good at 52-51 on two Simon free throws with 6:18 left in the game.

But it was Smith, who missed a month with a leg injury at the end of the regular season, who was the key. She hit five of eight from three-point range on the way to a 9-of-13 shooting game.

Coach Jeff Hans

“She’s getting back in form, getting her legs under her,” Hans said. Smith, out of Cincinnati Mother McAuley, was also the key to TMU’s 33-7 edge in bench points with Cincinnati Roger Bacon’s Kelly Brenner hitting all three of her three-point attempts on the way to nine points.

Barth had a game-high 10 rebounds for a double-double with Smith adding five rebounds.

Montana Western was led by Shainy Mack’s 17 points.

Two TM steals in the final 12 seconds, one by Simon, the other by Barth, and the resulting three free throws gave TM a seven-point 66-59 lead.

Big differences in the game: Thomas More forced 16 Montana Western turnovers while turning it over just eight times. That produced a 17-0 differential in points off turnovers and that was more than enough for the win.

TMU struggled a bit shooting the ball, hitting just 36.8 percent (21 of 57) from the field to Montana Western’s 44.7 percent (21 of 47).

TMU still had an edge with 11 three-pointers (11 of 31) for 35.5 percent. Montana Western his on nine of 25 (36.0 percent).

Both teams nailed their free throws. TMU hit on 13 of 16 (81.3 percent) while Montana Western hit on 11 of 12 (91.7 percent).

The Saints had a 16-12 edge in assists and doubled Montana Western in steals, 10 to five.

Looking for another championship ring.

Central Methodist advanced with a 52-48 win over Marian (Ind.) as both TMU and Central Methodist reach what the NAIA calls their semifinals – the Fab Four – for the second straight year.

The day off gave TMU fans heading to Sioux City time to get there, Hans said, although there has been a significant rooting section for the first two games.

MONTANA WESTERN 14 10 18 20-62
THOMAS MORE 19 9 17 21-66

MONTANA WESTERN (28-6): Mack 17, Fitzgerald 14, Sweeney 14, King 6, J. Momberg 4, Davis 3, Hagy 2, Cooley 2, K. Momberg 0, Lund 0, TOTAL: 62.
THOMAS MORE (30-3): Smith 24, Simon 13, Barth 11, Brenner 9, Martin 6, Hurst 3, Turner 0, Jones 0, Vickers 0, Whiteman 0, TOTAL: 66.

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