By Greg Chandler
CRESTVIEW HILLS, Kentucky - The Hope College women's basketball team stunned 2016 national champion and previously unbeaten Thomas More College with a 74-67 victory Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The nationally ranked Flying Dutch (24-4) handed the host Saints their first game loss since postseason play March 15, 2014 to advance to next week's sectional at Ohio Northern.
"That's how we are best,' said senior forward Mandy Traversa of Winfield, Illinois (Wheaton North HS). "When we're playing as individuals, we're not so great, but when we play together, we can beat anyone. Right now we're on top of the world."
Traversa's game-high 22 points and career-high 14 rebounds powered the Flying Dutch. She hit four free throws over the final 13 seconds to secure the victory.
Hope, No. 15 in the WBCA poll and No. 18 in D3hoops.com rankings, will face Christopher Newport, Virginia, a 69-51 winner over Lynchburg (Va.) on Saturday. Ohio Northern and SUNY-Geneseo meet in the other sectional semifinal.
The Flying Dutch are the first team to beat Thomas More since Whitman in a 2014 sectional final. That was 94 consecutive wins (when 33 vacated wins from the 2014-15 season because of a NCAA penalty are "counted").
Hope is the first opponent to win at Thomas More since Calvin beat the Saints 84-75 in overtime on November 23, 2012 - a span of 79 consecutive victories (when the 2014-15 season are "counted").
Earning the Flying Dutch's ninth trip to sectionals took a total team effort to overcome a strong start by Thomas More (28-1).
Thomas More, playing in front of a loud partisan crowd, jumped on Hope early. The Saints hit 50 percent of their shots in the first quarter and turning four offensive rebounds into putback buckets to build an 18-11 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Hope was unfazed. Coach Brian Morehouse told his team at the quarter break not to panic.
"I just said, 'We're still within striking distance, we're just a little run away from putting the pressure right back on them,'" Morehouse said.
Hope came out flying in the second quarter. Four steals on the defensive end ignited an 11-0 run in the first two minutes of, capped off by a steal and layup by senior Allison Hedrick of Naperville, Illinois (Neuqua Valley) to give the Flying Dutch a 22-18 lead. Hope would never trail again.
Senior guard Paris Madison of Grand Rapids, Michigan (GR Christian HS) went coast-to-coast and hit a 10-foot runner as the buzzer sounded to end the first half, giving Hope a 36-30 lead.
"When we struck back and stood up to the champ .. that was the key point in the game," Morehouse said. "I love all the Rocky movies, and I told our team, 'All you have to do is get up off the mat one more time than you get knocked down.'"
The Flying Dutch continued to hang tough in the second half without All-MIAA center Francesca Buchanan of Grant, Michigan (Sparta HS), who picked up her third foul 14 seconds into the half, then was assessed her fourth foul late in the third quarter.
Buchanan played only 14 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter with eight points.
Hope took a 59-54 lead into the final quarter. Senior guard Angelique Gaddy of Caledonia, Michigan (GR South Christian) extended the Flying Dutch lead to seven early in the quarter.
Thomas More responded with a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 64-63 with 3:34 to play. The Saints had a chance to gain the lead moments later, but missed two foul shots. With 1:32 remaining and Hope leading 67-65, Thomas More missed two more foul shots that would have tied the score.
The Flying Dutch then sealed the upset with strong defense and clutch free throw shooting. Gaddy sank two free throws with 37.5 seconds remaining for a 69-65 lead, then made one of two after an Abby Owings bucket for Thomas More to make it 70-67.
Owings, who scored 20 points for the Saints, made a bid to tie the game with a 3-point shot, but missed. Traversa pulled down the rebound and was fouled immediately.
Traversa calmly stepped to the line and sank both of her free throws with 13 seconds remaining to make it 72-67. Traversa added two more free throws with 2.8 seconds left for the final margin of victory.
"We're not ready to go home. We're not ready to end our season," Traversa said. "We proved that tonight. We all stepped up in huge situations."
Morehouse called Traversa's performance "a game for the ages."
"She was amazing. She's out there playing huge minutes, she out there playing the (post) at times," Morehouse said. "She's finally healthy after being hurt for three weeks. At one point, it was Mandy and four guards."
Gaddy finished with 14 points. Junior forward Madison Geers of Scottville, Michigan (Mason County Central) added 13 points.
Madison Temple led Thomas More with 22 points.
Hope shot 38 percent from the floor (25 of 65) while Thomas More shot 43 percent (27 of 62), but the Flying Dutch had a 10-point advantage at the foul line, sinking 18 of 22 while the Saints, normally a 70 percent team at the line, made only 8 of 17.