“They’re a very good team and very athletic,” said Montana State-Northern Head Coach Chris Mouat. “Credit to Loyola – they’re a good team. I thought we dug in our heels a little bit in the second half defensively and on the boards, which kept us alive. We kept our composure down the stretch and hit our free throws.”
Loyola pushed an early lead to a first quarter-best eight-point advantage (18-10) when Paige Franckiewicz connected on a long-range jumper from the wing. Despite less than four seconds left when Franckiewicz’s shot cleared the net, it would not be the final bucket of the frame, as Montana State-Northern’s Molly Kreycik drilled a buzzer beater from roughly 75 feet to cut the Skylights’ deficit to 18-13 and stymie the Wolf Pack’s 8-0 run.
Kreycik’s 3-pointer was the only converted long-range basket out of eight attempts in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
Approximately two minutes into the second quarter, another 3-pointer from Montana State-Northern – this time by Cydney Auzenne – knotted the score at 18 apiece.
Both clubs traded baskets throughout the remainder of the second quarter, resulting in a 27-26 Montana State-Northern advantage at the break.
It was much of the same in the second half, as neither club garnered a lead of more than eight points.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Montana State-Northern’s Natalee Faupel and Shiloh McCormick to close the third quarter gave the Skylights a 44-39 lead at the break – an advantage they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Despite, at times, the momentum feeling completely in favor of Montana State-Northern, the Wolf Pack would not surrender. Loyola cut the deficit to 47-46 on a Zoie Miller layup, however the squad proved unable to tie or take the lead down the stretch.
Montana State-Northern, which entered the tournament shooting 74.4 percent from the free throw line as a team, converted 6-of-6 attempts from the charity stripe in the final minute to put the contest to rest.
Faupel led all scorers with 27 points, which marks her 31st game of the season with double-digit points. The Butte, Mont., native was 9-for-16 from the field, including a 3-for-6 effort from beyond the arc. Faupel was also a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul line.
Overall, Montana State-Northern shot 36.5 percent from the field and held a 46-34 advantage in rebounding.
The victory improves Montana State-Northern to 11-13 all-time at the national championships, including a 9-5 mark in first round contests. The Skylights meet the winner of No. 2 Vanguard (Calif.) and No. 7 Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) in the nightcap tomorrow at 9:45 p.m. MDT.
Miller was the sparkplug on offense for Loyola, tallying 17 points off the bench for the Wolf Pack.
Loyola ends the year with a 26-7 record and falls to 4-9 all-time at the national championship.