Thomas More headed to third straight national title game

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For the third straight season, the Thomas More women’s basketball team will play for an NAIA National Championship.

The Saints defeated Central Methodist 71-61 on Friday night in the NAIA Women’s Basketball Semifinals to get to Saturday night’s championship in Sioux City, Iowa.

They’ll face Clarke University on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in their quest for a repeat. In 2021, the Saints finished runner-up.

Alex Smith continued her tear in the tournament in leading the Saints with 16 points. Emily Simon added 15, Zoie Barth with 13 and Courtney Hurst chipped in 11 in the winning effort as Thomas More improved to 30-4.

A hot start helped Thomas More earn the victory, knocking down eight first half 3-pointers on their way to a 41-27 halftime lead.

Things tightened up in the second half, however, their 14-point lead evaporating by the 2:28 mark of the third quarter when Central Methodist tied things up at 48. The Saints responded with a 6-2 run to end the quarter on buckets from Barth, Kelly Brenner and Smith to take a 54-50 lead into the fourth.

Central Methodist was able to tie things up on two different occasions in the fourth, the last at 58 with 3:30 to play, but the Saints never surrendered the lead and closed the game on a 13-3 run as they knocked down 9-of-10 free throws from that point.

Thomas More hit 42% from the field and went 9-of-24 from the 3-point line despite finishing 1-of-9 from beyond the arc in the second half. The Saints finished 16-of-19 from the free throw line.

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Clarke is a No. 2 seed and the University is located in Dubuque, Iowa. They defeated Campbellsville 76-51 in the quarterfinals on their path here.

Thomas More will seek a fourth national title under Jeff Hans since 2016, the first two coming when they were in Division III in 2016 and 2019, last year’s title here in NAIA.

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