Story: Austin Druse
Photos: Jennifer Schmidt
Video: Austin Remm and Austin Penfield
Following the “Parade of Champions” festivities, a ceremony in which each team in the field is recognized by the NAIA and city of Sioux City, the No. 3 Marian Knights beat the No. 6 Milligan Buffaloes 76-59.
Marian controlled the pace of the game from the jump, and maintained that control throughout. At the half, the Knights led the rebounding battle 22-19, and the turnover battle 9-13. What really helped Marian establish the early lead was their field goal percentage. The Knights shot 17-34 in the first half, while the Buffaloes shot just 10-30.
Marian head coach Katie Gearalds noted that despite the large margin of victory, she made an effort to keep her team engaged until the final buzzer, “Milligan is one of the top 32 teams in the country, they’re ranked 24th.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for the strong shooting was Marian’s ability to get to the rim, as the Knights tallied 38 points in the paint, as well as 29 points from the bench.
“They created some easy baskets off their defense in the first half,” Milligan head coach Rich Aubrey said. “Especially in the first half, they were able to turn their defense into offense and get some easy buckets in transition.”
Senior guard Lakan Hasser-Smith took control of the game early, netting eight of the first 11 Marian points. Her production helped the Knights jump out to a 22-13 lead through one. The Knights also picked up 10 from sophomore Kellie Kirkhoff, and led 40-27 at the half. Kirkhoff amassed 15 points on 6-11 shooting in the game along with five rebounds and four assists.
Hasser-Smith finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-18 shooting from the floor and team-high seven rebounds.
“I knew that basically, we had to come out and be really aggressive,” Hasser-Smith said.
Millgan freshman forward Sarah Robinson provided more than her fair share in both points and boards, as she finished with 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds in the loss.
With tonight’s matchup, Marian made its third appearance in the championship in program history. However, the Knights haven’t made it past the second round of the tournament. Last season, the Knights earned a No. 2 seed, but were bounced in the first round by then No. 7 seed Tabor College. Tabor is a 3-seed in this year’s championship.
“The Tabor t-shirt that we exchanged has been with me in my possession since that game,” Gearalds said. “It’s actually in the hotel room right now, I brought it with us.”
The Knights look to keep that motivation moving on in the championship. Marian moves on to the second round to face the winner of No. 2 Jamestown University and No. 7 Oregon Tech. That game is scheduled to tip at 12:00 p.m. on Friday, March 11.