NMU falls to No. 6 Ashland for GLIAC title

ALLENDALE — Northern Michigan University pulled within a single possession three times in the final quarter, but couldn’t quite get over the hump to tie or take the lead in the GLIAC Tournament women’s basketball championship game on Sunday afternoon.

No. 6 nationally ranked Ashland pulled away at the end for a 65-58 victory to capture the league title for the fourth consecutive year and automatic bid to the NCAA Division II national tournament that goes with it.

NMU was waiting till Sunday evening to see if it would get in the 64-team field as one of 40 at-large bids.

Northern, the No. 4 seed for the conference tourney, fell to 22-9, while No. 2 seed Ashland improved to 29-2. The Eagles’ only two losses all season both were to Grand Valley State, which was the No. 1 tourney seed that NMU defeated in the tourney semis 47-38 on Saturday.

The Wildcats also handed GVSU its only conference loss all season, 56-43, in Marquette on Jan. 19.

NMU’s selections to the all-tournament team, senior Darby Youngstrom and junior Jessica Schultz, were also its top scorers on Sunday. Youngstrom finished with 26 points, making 11 of 18 shots from the field, to go with three steals and three rebounds.

Schultz had 11 points and a team-high five rebounds, while sophomore teammate Elizabeth Lutz had 10 points coming off the bench, which included two of the Wildcats’ three 3-pointers. Lutz also made two steals.

While Northern and Ashland shot identical percentages from the field, the Eagles had massive advantages in rebounds and assists. Each team made exactly half its shots and 38 percent on 3-pointers.

But Ashland outrebounded NMU 38-16 with the Eagles’ Sara Loomis, another all-tourney selection as well as being named MVP, pulling down 15 to go with a team-high 22 points.

And AU had 18 assists compared to just one for NMU.

Despite the disparity, the Wildcats held Ashland to its second-lowest point total of the season.

And the game was close, with neither team grabbing a lead of more than five points until the final seven minutes.

Northern held its final lead, 33-32, with 8:34 to go in the third quarter after a Youngstrom jumper.

Leading just 46-44 after three quarters, Ashland threatened to break things open in the fourth. But NMU whittled its deficit to three on a trio of occasions — 48-45, 50-47 and 56-53, the final time following another Youngstrom jumper with 3:27 left.

Ashland then went on a 9-2 run that made it 65-55 with just 43 seconds left.

Powered by Tess Weatherly’s early 3-pointer, Northern led for the game’s first four minutes. The lead then changed five times before the first quarter ended in a 16-16 tie.

Schultz gave NMU its final lead of the first half with a jumper 15 seconds into the second quarter, though the Wildcats never trailed by more than four points before halftime and were only down 32-29 at the break.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.