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Knights outlast HU for league’s tournament title

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - While it wasn’t exactly the outcome the 4th-seeded HU women’s basketball team had hoped for, Coach Culler couldn’t be more proud of her crew and how they battled from start to finish in the Crossroads League championship game Monday night against 2nd-seeded Marian University (28-5). Down by seven with 3:34 to go, the Foresters scratched and clawed their way to a one-point lead of 57-56 with 1:26 on the clock before succumbing to a 63-59 loss.

Down by double digits in the second half, the Foresters (22-9) did what they’ve done all season. They never gave up. Facing a 41-29 deficit five minutes into the second half, the two Buckeyes on the roster in Amelia Recker and Miranda Palmer refused let the game slip away. The Ohio duo combined to score HU’s next ten points to pull their team back within six, 45-39, by the midway point of the period.

HU played even with the Knights over the next six minutes until they made their final push for the lead. Kelsey Hubble got things started when she drove left baseline for a layup and was fouled. Hubble’s missed free throw awkwardly ricocheted off a Knight player and into the hands of Recker for an easy put back that closed the gap to three at 56-53.

Courtney Baker then began her march to the free throw line where she hit four consecutive freebies over a 30-second span to give the Foresters their first lead since the 7:42 mark of the first frame. HU’s 7-0 spurt came to a screeching halt after that as Kaylee Walters single-handedly took over the game.  

The 5-7 senior from Fort Wayne outscored Huntington 7-2 in the final 1:12 to secure the program’s first ever league tournament championship and the Knights’ first automatic bid to nationals.

The first twenty minutes of the contest was a see saw affair that featured six ties and five lead changes before Marian’s Jenna Sullivan scored the period’s final four points to give the hosts a 30-24 lead heading into break. Baker kept her team within striking distance by piecing together one of the best shooting halves of her career. She connected on three triples on her way to scoring 11 points in the frame.

Baker finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with nine rebounds. Recker logged 13 points and ten rebounds for the game’s only double double. Palmer added 16 points while Hubble handed out a game-tying five assists.

Walters led a balanced MU attack with 16 points. Sullivan came off the bench to add 15 and Jessica Almeida and Lakan Hasser-Smith each tossed in ten.

As a team, Huntington shot 37.5 percent from the field (21-for-56) while their hosts went 27-for-59 for 45.8 percent. Both teams shot 85.7 percent from the line with HU getting there twice as often to finish 12-for-14 while the Knights connected on 6-for-7.  

The Foresters enjoyed a slim 36-32 rebounding advantage and outscored No. 7 Marian 10-4 on second chance points but MU got the best of HU when it came to turnovers, committing eight to Huntington’s 13.

Culler’s squad, currently ranked No. 22 nationally, now lies in wait until Wednesday afternoon to see if they receive one of the nine at large bids to the NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship in Sioux City, Iowa.  

The Huntington University Foresters compete in 16 intercollegiate sports for men and women. In the past decade, Huntington has produced 38 NAIA All-America honors and 222 All-America Scholar Athlete honors. Huntington University is a comprehensive Christian college of the liberal arts offering graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 70 academic concentrations. U.S.News & World Report ranks Huntington among the best colleges in the Midwest.