NEW ULM - Early in Saturday's game, the question for the Martin Luther College women's basketball team wasn't if the team's defense would be able to hold Northland to a reasonable score, but rather whether the Knights would score enough points to make their strong defensive effort count.
MLC trailed until late in the first half, but heated up with a 13-1 run entering halftime to take the lead for good, holding on through a gritty second half to earn a 57-47 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference victory.
"We kind of came out flat-footed, both our shooting and our defense," MLC head coach Larry Czer said. "We made some quick adjustments in the first half, got them moving up and down the floor, and that got us playing more of our style of game."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Martin Luther College’s Rebecca Engelbrecht (30) drives to the basket as Jessica Jaeckel of Northland defends on the play during the second half Saturday at MLC in New Ulm.
The Lumberjills had a hot start from behind the 3-point line, with Sara Hoge and Sam Stanfield each draining a pair of 3s as Northland pulled out to an early 14-4 lead.
From that point the Knights started finding success on the defensive end, forcing a number of turnovers with a tough half-court pressure defense. MLC held Northland to just seven points in the final 12 minutes of the first half.
"On defense, we picked up the hustle," MLC junior Brittney Gossen said. "Every loose ball, we went after it. We were anticipating better, so it was just a better game all around."
However, the home side was having little luck of its own on offense. The Knights shot just 11-for-40 from the field in the first half and earned few second chances as the Lumberjills held a 32-21 rebound advantage.
With the score 20-12 in Northland's favor, MLC finally started hitting shots as Gossen made consecutive 3s. Knights sophomore Alex Anthon then earned a steal and fed fellow sophomore Hannah Hackbarth for a basket to tie the score at 20-20.
Anthon converted a three-point play with 25 seconds left in the half - MLC's only free throw attempt of the first half - to give her team a 25-21 lead at halftime.
After the Knights opened up a 35-25 lead in the second half, Northland closed the gap to 35-32. However, that was as close as the Lumberjills would get.
MLC's Leah Nass scored the next basket of the game on a putback after teammate Rebecca Engelbrecht missed a free throw. From there, MLC didn't allow the lead to drop below five points the rest of the way.
MLC held the Lumberjills to just 7-of-21 shooting in the second half, but committed 13 fouls to give the visitors a number of free throw attempts.
The Knights used a multi-pronged attack in the game, with each of the team's players scoring at least one basket.
"We got a lot of balanced scoring tonight, which is really good," Czer said. "We had three players in double figures and everybody that played scored, so that's kind of who we are, we have to remember that a lot of people can score for us. We just need to get a little more consistent in our offensive play and not make mistakes at critical points."
Gossen led MLC with 14 points and added seven rebounds and three assists. Nass (11 points, nine rebounds, four steals, one block) and Anthon (seven points, six rebounds, five assists, seven steals, one block) each had fine all-around efforts for the Knights, with Hackbarth adding 11 points.
Hoge led Northland with 17 points and Stanfield added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The victory moved the Knights (5-11 overall, 3-2 in conference play) ahead of the Lumberjills (3-9, 2-3) in the UMAC standings.
"We knew this game was huge," Gossen said. "The UMAC right now, it's anybody's conference, so every game we've got to come out and give it our all, because it could be the turning point, it could light a little fire in you and set you going on a winning record. It's time to turn the corner, and that's what I think we did today."
MLC will face a tough test at 5:30 p.m. on Friday when its hosts conference-leading University of Minnesota, Morris.
"They're on top of the conference, so it's a good test to see where we stand," Czer said. "Hopefully we'll come out firing on all cylinders on Friday night."