Wayne State rises to the occasion

The Wildcats shoot their way past Harding University 87-80

Richard Rhoden, Editor-In-Chief

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  • The Wayne State bench celebrates as the clock expires.

  • Sadie Murren protects the ball in the first half of WSC’s 87-80 win over Harding

  • Ashton Yossi catches and takes a three in Wayne State’s 87-80 win over Harding

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With time winding down and the season on the line, Wayne State did what it has done all season—hit threes.

Sadie Murren nailed a three with 1:23 left to play to take an 83-80 lead and Millie Niggeling delivered the dagger with 26 seconds left to lead Wayne State to an 87-80 victory over Harding University in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Central Regional Tournament.

“This is what March Madness is all about,” Head Coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “You have to give Harding all the credit in the world because that is the best offensive basketball team we’ve faced all year. When we had to be at our best defensively, we were. Offensively, our kids just hit tough shots.

“What a great basketball game; it’s unfortunate that someone had to lose.”

Harding Head Coach Tim Kirby echoed Kielsmeier’s overall sentiments of the basketball game.

“It was a good college basketball game,” he said. “The bottom line is they can shoot the ball and those were just some huge shots that they made late in the game.”

Harding held the lead early until an Alex Nelson three put WSC up 11-8. The Wildcats built a lead as big as five at 19-14 before Harding charged back. Harding took the lead back at the 10:15 mark and held it for the rest of the half, leading by as many as seven.

It was a back and forth first half with a quick pace, as neither team was able to distance themselves from the other. As the first half came to a close, Wayne State trailed Harding 46-41.

“The pace of the game was really fast, and as far as offensively, everyone contributed, which is part of our success,” Jordan Spencer said.

Harding shot the lights out of the gym in the first half, going 16 of 29 from the field for 55 percent and 5 of 7 from behind the arc at 71 percent. The Wildcats only made 11 of 33 shots for 33 percent while going 5 of 12 from long range at 42 percent.

The beginning of the second half was much of the same, as Harding never led by more than seven. Wayne State got close, but Harding kept them a possession or two away.

That was until 7:20 remaining in the game when Jordan Spencer dropped in a layup to tie it at 67.

Maggie Schulte scored two possessions later to give the Wildcats their first lead of the second half. Harding regained the lead and was up 72-69 when Wayne made its push.

“We have three of the most special seniors that I have ever coached, and they didn’t want to lose tonight,” Kielsmeier said. “They just found a way.”

Free throws by Yossi got the Wildcats within one and a three by Schulte gave them the lead. After a field goal by Harding, Yossi nailed the three to give Wayne State the lead for good.

“When you’re in the moment, you can feel it coming,” Yossi said. “I knew we needed some big plays and I know I missed some that I should hit but sometimes the open ones are a little more difficult for me.”

“Four years it’s been that way,” Kielsmeier joked in response. “You leave her wide open, she’s going to miss it, but you chase her around and get in her face she’s going to hit it.”

Wayne State was led in scoring by Spencer with 21 points while Yossi and Schulte recorded 15, Murren scored 14 and Niggeling collected 10.

The Wildcats finished the game shooting 47 percent from the field while Harding shot 53 percent. Wayne State made 12 of 23 three pointers while Harding made 9 of 14. It was the big-time shots late in the game by Yossi, Murren and Niggeling that made the difference.

“I’ve told this team that they are the toughest I have ever coached mentally in 15 years, and that’s why we won the game tonight,” Kielsmeier said. “We never panicked, we didn’t play our best game of the year but we showed our toughness and continued to fight and made plays on both ends when we had to.”

Wayne State advances to the semifinals of the NCAA Central Region where they will take on top-seeded and host school Fort Hays State Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

“We are extremely thankful and excited for the opportunity because this time of year all you want is another chance,” Kielsmeier said. “We know that Fort Hays has been the best team in the region all year, they’ve proven that, and that’s why we are here.

“It will take a tremendous effort by our program to be able to beat them on their home floor, but our kids are confident and we will be ready to play.”