Rocky Mountain takes on Shawnee State

Brooke Jones of Rocky Mountain College looks for her shot against Laken Smith (right) and Sienna King of Shawnee State Thursday night during the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. Shawnee State won 65-57.

BILLINGS – One statistic, near the bottom of the page, pretty much told the story.

In a game decided by eight points, Shawnee State won the offensive rebounding category by 10 points against Rocky Mountain College.

The Bears from Ohio had 17 points from second-chance chances. The Battlin’ Bears had seven.

“A 10-point differential,” said Rocky coach Wes Keller, holding the stats sheet in his hand. “You can’t win at the national tournament when you give up 17 offensive rebounds.”

Shawnee State advanced with a 65-57 win over Rocky Thursday night in the first round of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

The No. 16-ranked Bears (25-9) will play Clarke of Iowa on Friday at 8 p.m. Clarke, making its first NAIA national tournament appearance, recovered from a 1 for 16 start from the field to stun No. 1 seed Columbia (Mo.) 62-59.

Rocky, ranked No. 20 in the latest poll, finishes 20-13.

The Battlin’ Bears are 0-4 at the national tournament. Shawnee State, which advanced to the second round a second straight year, evened its record at 9-9 on the national stage. The Bears are playing in their ninth consecutive tournament.

Shawnee State, known more for its 3-point shooting, dominated the glass, outrebounding the Battlin’ Bears 47-30.

“They went and got those second-chance points,” said Battlin’ Bears junior Markaela Francis. “Sometimes, offensive rebounding is luck. But not tonight. We got outhustled and outworked. They were willing to fight for them.”

Francis finished with a game-high 18 points and team-high eight rebounds. Brooke Jones added 13 points and Kloie Thatcher 11.

“We took care of the ball,” said Keller, whose team only had seven turnovers. “And our posts did a good job when we got them the ball down low.”

Ashton Lovely and Hannah Miller each had 13 points for Shawnee State, while Sydney King came off the bench to finish with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Bailey Cummins also had 11 points for the Bears.

Both teams shot 37 percent from the field, separated by three-hundredths of a percentage point. However, Shawnee State made seven 3-pointers — one below its season average — while Rocky was just 2 of 13 (15 percent) from 3-point range. The Battlin’ Bears missed their first 10 3-point attempts.

The 65 points were almost 16 below Shawnee State’s season average.

“We just played defense the way we know how to play,” Francis said. “Get up on them so they rush their decision … put the offensive player in pressure situations.”

The game was tied six times and there were nine lead changes.

Rocky last led 20-19 on two Jones free throws and tied it 24-24 on a Juhl baseline drive. The Bears countered with an 8-0 run and led 32-26 at halftime.

Shawnee State stretched its lead to 15, 62-47 in the fourth quarter but the Battlin’ Bears came back on consecutive 3-pointers by Francis and Juhl, along with a basket from Thatcher. Shawnee State added three free throws in the final 46 seconds.

“To have back-to-back 20-win seasons is amazing,” said Francis of the team that loses five seniors. “We learned a lot from our seniors. We became a team, a very unselfish team but it was more than that. We became in fact a family.”

Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

Sports writer at the Billings Gazette

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