Saints go back-to-back

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Thomas More point guard Abby Owings came up big with 17 points in 39 minutes against Tufts in the national championship game.
Photo by Larry Radloff,

The Thomas More Saints wrote their names into the list of national champions for the second consecutive season, defeating the Tufts Jumbos, 63-51 for the 2016 NCAA Division III women's basketball title at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

With the win, Thomas More became the first Division III women’s team to win back-to-back national championships since Washington U. won four straight from 1998 to 2001.

Sophomore point guard Abby Owings led the Saints (33-0) in scoring with 17 points, including a pair of threes, in a team-leading 39 minutes.

The championship also marked the final game for three-time player of the year Sydney Moss who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, and four assists for Thomas More.

The game was played in front of an announced crowd of 6,403 fans, in conjunction with the Division II women's basketball championship game as part of a celebration involving the D-I women's Final Four.

Tufts (28-4) opened the game with a 17-11 lead after one quarter, shooting 53 percent (8-for-15) to Thomas More's 20 percent (3-for-15). But the Saints proved as they have throughout the last two years that they can close halves and games with sudden force.

The Saints stormed back to outscore the Jumbos 21 to 9 in the second quarter on the way to a 32-26 halftime advantage. Owings capped the comeback with a runner off the glass at the buzzer.

The field goal differential shifted toward Thomas More in that period as the Jumbos were held to 4-for-17 shooting while Thomas More shot 47 percent. The Saints also rebounded the Jumbos 14 to 9 in that quarter.

As the second half began Thomas More sought to accelerate the tempo and open up the offense for its star players, but Tufts wouldn't let the Saints pull away. The Saints shot 42 percent in the third quarter, but only mustered 12 field goal attempts. Meanwhile Tufts hit seven of 19 shots in the third quarter and pulled with five on Michela North's rebound and put back with a second left in the period.

Tufts continued their jumbo rush into the fourth quarter, erupting for a 9-2 run to knot the game at 49-49 with 6:28 left. But Thomas More refused to cede control, immediately responding with a defensive stop and ensuing fast break that ended in a Moss layup sparking a 10-0 run. With a two-possession lead, freshman Madison Temple buried a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give Thomas More a 56-49 lead and a firm grip on the game.

Senior reserve Michelle Wu finally ended the Saints' run with 1:44 remaining in the game on a desperation jumper, but the Jumbos had to foul to extend the game. Owings and Temple took care of matters from the foul line to provide Thomas More with a 63-51 lead which served as the final score. The margin was nearly identical to the Saints' 62-52 win over Tufts in the national semifinals last year.

Michela North led the Jumbos with 10 points and 15 rebounds, but was the only Tufts player to reach double figures. The Saints had four double-digit scorers in the championship game, with Nikki Kiernan scoring 13 points and Temple registering 10.

Moss was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive season. She is the first player to win the award twice since Page Lutz did so for Elizabethtown in 1983 and 1984, though the NCAA has not named a Most Outstanding Player every year.

Moss was joined on the 2016 All-Tournament team by Owings, North, Hannah Hackley of Amherst and Morgan Neuendorf of Wartburg.

If the University of Connecticut defeats Syracuse in the Division I national championship game on Tuesday night, this will be the third season that all three Divisions of NCAA women's basketball had an undefeated title winner. That also happened in 2014 (UConn, Bentley and FDU-Florham) and 1995 (UConn, North Dakota State and Capital). Lubbock Christian defeated Alaska-Anchorage 78-73 in the 2016 Division II title game played before the Division III championship.