SALEM, Va. — Having already announced it will join the NAIA next season, Thomas More University found a perfect way to say farewell to the NCAA on Saturday night — with a national championship by its unbeaten women’s basketball team.
Thomas More completed its perfect season (33-0) with an 81-67 win over Bowdoin College to capture the NCAA Division III national championship. Five players scored in double figures for the top-ranked Saints, who hoisted the national championship trophy for the third time in the past five years.
The Saints won back-to-back NCAA Division III national championships in 2015 and ’16, though the NCAA later forced Thomas More to vacate the ’15 title for using an ineligible player. A year ago, Thomas More advanced to the national semifinals before losing to Amherst (Mass.) in the NCAA Division III Final Four.
Shelby Rupp scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Thomas More, which converted 24 of its 27 free throws and used a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to seal the championship. Kaela Saner poured in 20 points for the Saints, who shot 46.4 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle by a 39-31 margin.
Thomas More built a 38-34 halftime lead as Rupp scored 13 points and Saner added 11. Bowdoin held Thomas More All-American guard Madison Temple to just 3-for-9 shooting and six points during the opening 20 minutes.
Leading 40-36 in the third quarter, Thomas More ran off nine consecutive points to build a 49-36 advantage. Bowdoin cut the deficit to five points twice late in the quarter, but the Saints responded with a 10-0 spurt in the final stanza that extended a 64-56 lead into a 74-56 cushion.
Temple scored 11 in the second half and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. A graduate of Anderson High School in Cincinnati, Temple ended her career as Thomas More’s all-time scoring leader with 2,181 points. Emily Schultz added 14 points and Briana McNutt chipped in 11 points.
Abby Kelly netted a game-high 27 points for second-ranked Bowdoin (31-2), which shot 42.6 percent from the field.
Thomas More becomes a member of the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference in 2019-20. During the past five seasons, Thomas More posted a 157-3 record on the court. The Saints compiled records of 33-0 (later vacated by the NCAA), 33-0, 28-1, 30-2 and this season’s 33-0 slate.
Head coach Jeff Hans is now 207-11 in eight seasons at Thomas More. Hans was named Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year earlier this week.
(Information compiled from Thomas More and staff reports)