Northern Iowa scored the final nine points of the game to edge the Creighton women’s basketball team 54-53 Sunday afternoon in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game at The Family Arena.
The Panthers were awarded a pair of free-throws with 7.1 seconds left in the game, making both shots to hand the Bluejays their third heartbreaking loss in the last four seasons in the MVC title game. Fifth-year seniors Chevelle Herring and Megan Neuvirth, both playing in their third title game, led the Bluejays with 13 points each.
After trailing by four at halftime, the Bluejays (20-10) pushed ahead to their largest lead of the game, up 53-45 with 7:46 left in the game after a slashing layup from Neuvirth. That proved to be the final points for the Bluejays in the game, as they went nearly the final eight minutes without scoring.
The Panthers (17-15) slowly inched their way back into the game, bring the score to 53-52 in favor of the Bluejays with 2:07 left. The only points scored in the final two minutes came in the form of a pair of Lizzie Boeck free-throws with 7.1 seconds remaining on the clock after Kellie Nelson was called for a touch foul on the baseline. The junior center, who was named the MVC Tournament MVP, calmy sank both charity shots and put UNI ahead 54-53.
After a timeout by the Panthers, the Bluejays got the ball in the hands of Neuvirth, who went the length of the court and missed a tightly contested jump shot in the paint at the buzzer. Her shot fell short, as did the Bluejays for the second straight season and the third time in four years in the MVC championship game.
The Panthers built their first half lead on the strength of their three-point shooting, making 6-of-13 (.462) three-pointers in the opening half to lead 31-27 at the break. UNI was just 4-for-14 (.286) from inside the three-point line in the opening half.
UNI’s dependency on the three-pointer hurt them in the second half, as it was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc after the half while the Jays mounted their comeback. An 8-4 burst out of the locker room helped the Jays tie the game at 35.
Freshman Jasmin Corbin then stepped up to hit just her seventh three-pointer of the season and give the Jays a 38-35 lead five minutes into the half. The Jays would maintain that lead until 7.1 seconds remained on the clock.
Creighton made 6-of-9 shots to open the second half, before cooling off and making just 3-of-15 to end the game. The Jays missed their final seven shots in the game and turned the ball over six times in the final 6:17 of the game, after not committing a second-half turnover until that point.
Boeck finished the game with 19 points and five rebounds, making 6-of-13 shots from the floor and 6-of-8 free-throws. Nicole Clausen, also an All-Tournament honoree, was the only other UNI player in double figures with 10. Erin Brocka topped UNI with nine rebounds.
Herring and Neuvirth each had 13 points to lead the Jays. Neuvirth was 4-for-10 from the floor and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line to go alone with six rebounds. Herring, one of three Bluejays honored on the All-Tournament Team, was 5-for-10 from the field.
Kellie Nelson and Sam Schuett joined Herring on the all-tournament team, as Nelson finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and Schuett chipped in nine points, seven boards and two steals.
The Jays had a season-low four assists on their 19 field goals, finishing 19-of-48 (.396) from the field in defeat. CU hit only 2-of-12 (.167) shots from three-point range and was 13-of-15 (.867) from the free-throw line.
The Panthers shot 35.3 percent (18-51) from the field and 6-of-20 (.300) from three-point range. UNI was 12-of-15 (.800) from the line. Creighton out-rebounded the Panthers 34-27.
Creighton, which lost by two points on a last-second shot in the title game last year and lost by one point in overtime of the 2007 championship game, again found themselves just one basket shy of an NCAA appearance.
At 20-10, the Bluejays will discover their postseason fate following the NCAA Selection show on Monday night. The Jays will likely appear in their sixth Women’s NIT in the past eight seasons, and will find out their first-round match up late Monday night.