Saints season ends in quarterfinal round
North Country’s women struggle on offense in 70-61 loss to Northland in NJCAA tournament
SARANAC LAKE — Another great season is over for the North Country Community College women’s basketball team. And the ending was a bitter pill to swallow in more ways than one.
Competing as one of eight teams in 2020 NJCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship tournament, the Saints fell 70-61 to Northland College in Thursday’s quarterfinal round in Rockford, Illinois.
Win or lose, all eight squads that traveled to the tournament at Rock Valley College were originally going to play three games over a three-day stretch. Thursday’s victorious teams were scheduled to advance to Friday’s semifinals, while those that fell would have moved into the consolation round.
Instead, because of the coronavirus, it became a one-and-done tourney, and the Saints found out that was going to be the situation about a half hour before tip-off. The Saints finished their season with a 28-4 record planned to begin their journey home Friday morning. Meanwhile, the Northland College Pioneers, who hail from East Grand Forks, Minnesota, advanced into Friday’s semifinal round, and if they win that matchup, the championship game awaits at 6 p.m. that evening, as the final was moved from Saturday.
Fans were barred from attending all games in the tournament, and in front of an empty gym, the Saints had big-time struggling woes against Northland. North Country’s women’s attempted 24 more field goals than Northland, 74 in all, but only connected on 31 % of their shots. And to make matters worse, the Saints only sank 4-of-11 of their free throw attempts.
And in back-and-forth game that saw the lead change hands 10 times in the third quarter, Saints coach Jerrad Dumont said shooting was the difference. The Pioneers didn’t have a great afternoon from the floor either, going 22-50 against North Country’s tough defense, but they made up at the foul line with 18-29 performance.
“We struggled to shoot the basketball from the outside,” Dumont said. “We usually do pretty well there, and we probably missed 10 or 12 layups and we air-balled a couple foul shots. We were never able to build up a little bit of a cushion, which would have put the pressure on them.
“We spread the floor well, we moved the ball well, we shared it and we played good defense,” Dumont continued. “We just didn’t make our shots and they made them when they had to.”
The Saints never led in the first half. They fell into an early 18-5 hole but battled back to trail 35-34 at halftime. North Country took its first lead 30 seconds after intermission when sophomore guard Talesa Campbell drained a three-pointer to put her team on top 37-34. Third-quarter action see-sawed from there with Northland grabbing a 51-50 edge heading into the fourth period.
The Pioneers opened the fourth with a 5-0 run and stayed in front the rest of the way. The Saints went especially cold down the stretch, scoring just nine points during the final eight minutes of the game.
Campbell, who sat out with an injury during her entire freshman year, finished with a team-high 21 points for the Saints. She went 8-for-17 from the field while draining five three-pointers in the game.
Sophomore transfer student-athlete Damoni Wells and and sophomore Kayla Carder each added 11 points for North Country. Carder, the Saints all-American forward and 1,000-plus point scorer, was doubled teamed down low and went just 4-for-14 from the floor. She did however, haul down a game-high 14 rebounds.
Northland had three players score in double figures. Janie Wunderlich led the way with a game-high 23 points, Carly Mekash knocked down 18 and Emma Duden tossed in 12 points.
“I thought they stuck to their game plan well, stuck together and made some shots that we didn’t,” Dumont said of the Pioneers. “They kept us out of the paint and made us take long shots. We just didn’t make them.”
The Pioneers were the tournament’s No. 4 seed and improved to 21-5 overall. Starting at noon Friday, they’ll face the tournament’s Cinderella, eighth-seeded Cedar Valley, which upset No. 1 Massasoit 73-68 in the first quarterfinal game played Thursday.
In the other bracket, No 6 Western Tech moved on to the semifinals after upsetting defending national champion and No. 3 seed Hostos by a 77-67 score. Western Tech will face Rock Valley, the No. 2 seed and the host team Rock Valley, which defeated Passaic County 78-64 in the last quarterfinal played Thursday.
North Country entered the championship seeded fifth. This week marked the second year in a row that the Saints reached the NJCAA tournament. Last season, they posted a 2-1 record in the championship to finish in third place.
Dumont said he felt especially bad for family members who traveled to the Chicago area from distances as far away as Texas and Florida planning to attend all three Saints scheduled games.
“It was awful,” Dumont said. “We had a lot of parents come a long way for these games. They were all waiting for us in the hotel when we got back.
“This team, this group of girls, they are tough,” Dumont added. “They hosted a regional final, which has never been done before at North Country. They stuck together. They had a great season.”