by Eva Dean Folkert
The most potent offensive team in Division III women's basketball eliminated the Flying Dutch from the NCAA tournament by capitalizing on opportunistic defense on Saturday. The third-ranked Thomas More College Saints ended fourth-ranked Hope's season with a 72-57 victory in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship sectional finals hosted at DeVos Fieldhouse before a crowd of 2,704.
Thomas More — who is ranked first in field goal percentage (49.3%), three-point percentage (41.6%) and scoring margin (35.9) — used disruptive defense in the form of advantages in forced turnovers, rebounds and steals, especially in the first half, to stifle the Flying Dutch's dream of making it to the Final Four for the first time since 2010.
Hope ends their season with a 29-2 record while Thomas More moves to 30-1 and will take a trip to the national semifinals in Rochester, Minnesota next week.
"I don't think too many people last October were picking Hope College to go 29-2," said head coach Brian Morehouse, "but that doesn't take away the sting of being this close to a Final Four."
"We had big dreams obviously for this year so to go out at eight (the sectional finals) is not what we wanted," added senior Jacquelyn Schwark of Fraser, Michigan (Lutheran North HS) with great composure, "but I'm sure looking back, it will feel a lot better than it does right now."
Saturday's win for Thomas More avenges the loss they suffered last year at the hands of Hope in the NCAA tournament second round on the Saints' home floor. In Thomas More's case, revenge was a dish best served by taking 17 more shots than Hope, winning the battle on the boards by three and forcing the Flying Dutch into 14 first-half turnovers that led to 18 of the Saints' 30 first-half points.
"We had turnovers that led to layups and you can't guard layups," Morehouse explained.
The teams went into the locker room tied at halftime, 30-30, after freshman post player Olivia Voskuil of Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS) nailed a 3-pointer with 1:23 to go. Thomas More, though, opened up their second-half lead by realizing more offensive success by vastly improving their shooting percentage (by 18 percentage points — 32% to 50%) in the game's last 20 minutes. The fourth quarter was especially good for the Saints when they scored 27 points to Hope's 16.
"We took care of the basketball better (in the second half), had a little bit more composure on the offensive end while still scrambling around and defending like we needed to and making them take tough shots," explained Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans.
Though the Flying Dutch would get the margin to six points when Schwark put down a three-pointer at the 6:01 mark, 54-48, in the fourth quarter, that was as close as Hope would get to the Saints for the rest of the game as Thomas More built their lead and ultimate victory mostly on layups and free throws at the end.
As he has done often throughout the season, Morehouse credited his seniors once again for leading a relatively young Hope team on a successful 2017-18 campaign.
"It was an amazing year and it was in large part because of our leadership of our captains and specifically our seniors, Heather Randall, Vanessa Freberg, Jackie Schwark and Madison Geers," praised Morehouse. "The things that they did behind the scenes to make us great, the things that they did in front of the team to lead us into good practices and right the ship when everything was going wrong (were outstanding). One of the strongest senior leadership groups I've ever had in our basketball program."
Against Thomas More, Hope was led by junior center Francesca Buchanan of Grant, Michigan (Sparta HS) with a team-high 13 points and six rebounds. Voskuil shot perfectly from the floor on the night, shooting 5-for-5, including that three-pointer, and finishing with 11 points.
Thomas More had three players score in double figures — Madison Temple with 25 points, Abby Owings with 18, and Taylor Jolly with 13.
Even though the loss came at DeVos, there is still no place like home for the Flying Dutch where they are 194-9 all-time.