by Eva Dean Folkert
In a highly anticipated rematch between two women's basketball teams who played each other in last year's NCAA Division III Elite Eight, No. 2-ranked Hope College succumbed again to the efficient offense of No. 4-ranked Thomas More (Ky.) College, 81-61, on Saturday. This time the loss came in Hope's Post-Exam Jam Tournament at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Last season, the Flying Dutch fell to the Saints, 72-57, in the NCAA regional final hosted at Hope. This season, Hope's loss to Thomas More marks the first time that the Flying Dutch have fallen in the regular-season tournament they have hosted since 2009.
Prior to tipoff, the game had all the markings of a Division III Women's Basketball Game of the Week (that is, if there is officially such a thing). The two programs are highly ranked in the D3hoops.com poll. They are also near the top of two NCAA offensive categories: scoring offense (Thomas More is 3rd at 88.5 points; Hope is 5th at 85.2) and scoring margin (Hope is 3rd at 34 points; Thomas More is 4th at 33.1).
But the stat that undid the Flying Dutch on Saturday is the one in which the Saints lead the nation: field goal percentage (53.8%). From the start, Thomas More showed their stellar scoring capabilities by going 6-of-7 from the field in the game's first four-and-a-half minutes. At 5:23, the Saints had a 14-5 lead. They would finish the first quarter, 23-11, and the first half, 41-22, widening the double-digit margin, one they would never relinquish the rest of the game.
"Hats off to Thomas Moore, they played a tremendous game," said head coach Brian Morehouse. (They're) really, really efficient obviously. In the first half, they shot 62 percent and just kind of had their way. They got shots, they made shots. And I thought that we really struggled to find our identity in the first half on the offensive end."
In that half, Hope made only eight of 32 shots for 25% en route to scoring just 11 points a quarter. The Flying Dutch would improve to 36.4% for the game while Thomas More finished shooting 47.8%, six points below their shooting percentage average.
On the boards, the Saints also dominated, pulling down 18 more rebounds than Hope (47-29). Their well-executed, half-court ball movement also capitalized on finding 14 more points in the paint, 38-24, over the Flying Dutch.
"I think the biggest thing is that we let (the first quarter) get in our heads," said senior captain Francesca Buchanan from Grant (Sparta HS). "It wasn't so much what they were doing; it was more what we were doing in response to them just playing basketball. And I just don't think we responded very well to how they were playing. We just didn't come out ready."
"I think nerves got the best of us," added sophomore guard Kenedy Schoonveld (Holland Christian HS), pictured, who led Hope with 13 points. "It was a big game and we were a little jittery. So, we came out missing everything and they hit everything and we kind of got a little frazzled."
Buchanan finished the game with 12 points while sophomore guard Lauren Newman (Flushing HS) had 11. Sophomore center Olivia Voskuil (Holland Christian) pulled down the most rebounds for the Flying Dutch with six.
The Saints (13-0) were paced by four players in double figures: Emily Schulz with 21, Madison Temple and Kaela Saner with 15 each, and Shelby Rupp with 12. Rupp and Temple notched double-doubles by each grabbing 13 rebounds as well.
Hope (7-1) now moves into Christmas break with road trips to Atlanta to play in the Oglethorpe University Classic on December 21-22 and to Delaware, Ohio to play in the Ohio Wesleyan University Classic on December 28-29. With more tough competition ahead, Buchanan sees opportunity.
"Losing a game like this is tough and it sucks; it's not the best thing in the world," Buchanan reasoned. "But I think how we respond is what matters. How we respond in Monday's practice, how we respond going to Oglethorpe, how we respond in the games that follow, that's what counts right now."