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IU Northwest Lady RedHawks put up good fight in NAIA Tourney loss to top-seeded Northwestern College

Houston scores 26, but turnovers, poor shooting dominate RedHawks’ inaugural tournament appearance

It wasn’t a lack of effort but perhaps an abundance of nerves that undercut the Lady RedHawks of Indiana University Northwest as they faced the Lady Red Raiders of Northwestern College on Thursday in the opening round of the 19th Annual State Farm – NAIA Division II Women’s National Basketball Tournament.

For a team playing on a national stage in the biggest game in the history of their athletic program, and against a top-seeded former national champion, a case of the jitters is practically standard-issue.

But the RedHawks never let down and never gave up in their 100-47 loss to Northwestern. They scrapped for every rebound, fought for every loose ball, and otherwise gave every indication that they are an NAIA team of the future.

"We faced a first-class basketball team today and found out firsthand where we need to be to compete for a national championship," said RedHawk head coach Ryan Shelton after the game. "I am very proud of our team and their all-around effort. We're the youngest team in the tournament this year, and we'll be determined to get back next year."

Sharon Houston led IU Northwest with 26 points on 11-for-32 shooting and 4-for-6 from the line to go with 15 rebounds, but the RedHawks as a team only shot 23.6 percent from the floor and connected on only 18 total field-goal attempts. They were 3-for-15 from three-point range, with Nina Wills, Juliette Keller and Vicky Campos accounting for one each.

The Red Raiders, by contrast, shot 47.6 percent from the floor, hitting 39 field goals on 82 attempts and shooting 14-for-25 from behind the arc. They were led by Val Kleinjan with 17 points, Allison Hulst with 15, and Kendra De Jong with 12.

Northwestern jumped out to a 15-2 lead early, but once the RedHawks found their equilibrium they were able to tighten the game for the first eight minutes or so. A pair of Ish Shah Terry free throws and a Houston bucket closed the gap to 18-13.

But Northwestern alternated its deadly three-point shooting with a surprisingly deft inside game to keep the RedHawk defense off-kilter and reclaim a double-digit lead. Turnovers were a consistent problem for IU Northwest, which had 23 for the game as compared to Northwestern’s 14.

In the end, though, it was their inability to find the bucket on an unfamiliar Tyson Events Center court that hampered the RedHawks’ game. RedHawk Coach Ryan Shelton’s perimeter shooters tried gamely to answer their opponents’ three-point attack, but their shots would not fall. By halftime, the Red Raiders led 51-25, and IU Northwest could not recover.

For the Red Raiders, Thursday’s game was the first volley in their battle to reclaim the NAIA crown they last won in 2008. They were scheduled to play Sterling College of Kansas on Friday.

For IU Northwest, their first appearance in an NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, was merely the next step in an ongoing maturation process. The RedHawks expect to return all of their starters next season, and most of the team’s players are only sophomores or freshmen. Add a couple of high-profile Northwest Indiana recruits, Boone Grove’s Kelly Dobson and Kouts High School’s Annmarie Keller, with possibly others yet to come, and the RedHawks look to become increasingly competitive next season.

They finished this season at 24-13, posting the best record in the team’s history.

"This was an important first step for us, and this was a very special basketball season for us all," Shelton said.


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