BILLINGS – It looks like the NAIA got it right by choosing Montana Western guard Brianna King as the National Player of the Year.
King hit a 3-pointer over three defenders at the regulation buzzer to send the game to overtime, and the Bulldogs outscored the No. 1 Freed-Hardeman Lions 12-5 to win 78-71 and advance to the NAIA National Championship game.
— Casey Conlon (@CaseyConlon) March 19, 2019
Western trailed 66-63 with 2.1 seconds left after Carrie Hatchel made two free throws for Freed-Hardeman. The Bulldogs called timeout to advance the ball to midcourt, inbounded it to King in the right corner who fired a turnaround 3 that hit nothing but net. Officials reviewed to play to make sure King got the shot off in time and confirmed the bucket.
King finished the game with 39 points and seven rebounds.
Cierra Lamey then opened overtime with a basket, plus the foul, and made the free throw to give Western a 69-66 lead that they would never give up. Lamey finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds as Western’s only other scorer in double figures.
The regulation game-tying 3 wasn’t King’s only buzzer beater of the night. She opened the game with a 3 right before the end of the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 19-18 lead. Western stretched the advantage to 35-28 by halftime – their largest lead of the game.
Freed-Hardeman was uncharacteristically cold from the 3-point line in the first half, making just 1-6 from beyond the arc after they made nine 3s in the first half of their quarterfinal win Saturday. Haylee Croom picked up the slack inside, scoring 18 first-half points to keep the Lions close.
The defending national champs then made a run late in the third quarter with two 3s and a Croom basket plus the foul to take a 47-45 lead into the fourth. Croom finished with a team-high 32 points and 13 rebounds.
The game stayed within a possession in the fourth until Carrie Hatchel hit a 3 with 40.6 seconds left to give the Lions a 60-54 lead. Western, though, scored quickly on consecutive possessions and Freed-Hardeman missed enough free throws to give King a chance at the buzzer.
Hatchel scored 14 points and had 10 assists as the only other Lions players in double figures.
The win moves Montana Western into Tuesday night’s NAIA National Championship game against Oklahoma City University at 7 p.m. OKC won the national title two years ago on this same court.