Havre Daily News sports editor
There is a saying that goes something like: All good things must come to an end.
On Friday afternoon, in Jackson, Tenn., those words rang true for the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team, as the No. 24 Skylights fell to No. 12 The Master's College, 67-62 in the second round of the NAIA women's national tournament.
“We have had an amazing season and it has certainly had a little bit of everything,” MSU-N first-year head coach Chris Mouat said. “It is bittersweet right now because we feel like we could have gone farther in this tournament.
“But I am so proud of these kids and what they have accomplished on and off the court this season,” Mouat added. “They have done some amazing things this year.”
As amazing as the Skylights' run has been over the last four months, they had opportunities to keep marching on against the highly-touted Mustangs on Friday afternoon.
The two teams battled back and forth throughout the first half until the Mustangs nudged ahead, 31-29 at the break.
In the second half, Northern asserted itself from the outside and also put the clamps down on the Mustangs defensively. By the time the clock had reached the six-minute mark, the Skylights were out in front and appeared poised to advance to the final eight of the tournament.
“We played really good basketball in some stretches,” Mouat said. “And one of those stretches was midway through the second half when we were able to make some shots and get a pretty comfortable lead.
“But they switched back from the man-to-man defense they had been in to a zone defense that had bothered us a little the whole game,” he added. “And that is when we just weren't able to knock down the shots and put them away.”
Conversely, the Mustangs went on a 3-point shooting tear down the stretch that saw them make three straight long-range bombs to reclaim the lead with time winding down.
The Skylights had several chances in the final minute to tie or take the lead, but in the end, they just didn't convert.
“The game really came down to them (Mustangs) making plays and making big shots down the stretch,” Mouat said. “They came up with three huge threes in a row and we just didn't respond.
“We were in a position to respond and we just didn't convert,” he added. “We had a couple of costly turnovers and a charge that hurt us in the final minute.”
Indeed, the game was a mixture of two very good teams trying to make the most out of each other's miscues.
MSU-N only shot 40 percent from the field and 28 percent from the 3-point-line. The Mustangs didn't fare much better, shooting a poor 35 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. But when the game was on the line, TMC's Kinsley Mittel knocked in two huge treys and The Master's made some clutch free throws to prevent Northern from continuing its magic carpet ride of a season.
Jessica Seyler paced the Mustangs with 17 points. Seyler was starting in the absence of senior point guard Grace Tappe who was injured in the Mustangs' first-round game. Mittel scored 16 points, including four of the Mustangs' seven 3-pointers. Junior forward Courtney Jackson chipped in with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
MSU-N seniors Jaci Heny and Camille Gardner ended their fine careers by scoring 17 and 10 points, respectively. Heny had a tough day from the floor making just 3-of-8 shot attempts. Heny did go 11-of-12 from the foul line while playing with foul trouble throughout much of the second half.
“It was tough to see this come to an end for our two seniors,” Mouat said. “They have both had tremendous careers here and they have done a great deal for this team, for our program and for this university.”
Delayne Johnston recorded her twelfth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Michele VanDyke also chipped in with 11 points and Jena Heggem added nine.
While MSU-N was the last Frontier Conference school to exit the tournament, the Mustangs are still alive. On Saturday night the second-seeded Mustangs knocked off No. 1-ranked Freed-Hardeman University in overtime, 57-56 to advance to tonight's NAIA Final Four.
“They are a very good basketball team and they are very seasoned and athletic,” Mouat said. “That's what makes it tough, because we had chances to put them away. We feel like we certainly could have taken this farther.
“But this team can hold its head high,” he added. “They have done a lot this season and they have been through a lot. This has been a great year for our team and for our program.”
The Skylights' season ended with a 20-10 overall record, a fourth-place finish in the Frontier Conference and the school's first trip to the NAIA tournament since 2001.
Mustangs 67, Skylights 62
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 4-10 3-4 11, Jena Heggem 3-9 1-1 9, Michele VanDyke 4-10 3-6 11, Camille Gardner 4-8 0-0 10, Jaci Heny 3-8 11-12 17, Ashley Trulock 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 20-50 18-23 62.
TMC - Angela Gimeno 3-6 0-0 7, Kinsley Mittel 6-20 0-0 16, Jessica Seyler 6-13 3-4 17, Jenn Ayers-Stamper 3-12 0-0 6, Courtney Jackson 5-10 3-5 13, Stacy Nanninga 1-4 3-4 5, Kelsey Schugert 1-4 1-4 3. Totals: 25-71 10-17 67.
Halftime - TMC 31, MSU-N 29. 3-pointers - TMC 7-24 (Gimeno 1, Mittel 4, Seyler 2), MSU-N 4-14 (Heggem 2, Heny 2). Rebounds - TMC 45, MSU-N 37. Fouls - TMC 16, MSU-N 18. Fouled out - Heny.