ADA — Ohio Northern stepped on the gas to start the second half and quickly there was nothing left of Otterbein.
ONU’s inside-out attack was way too much for the Cardinals.
ONU rolled to a 73-46 women’s basketball victory over Otterbein to win the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament championship Saturday before 876 fans at the King Horn Center.
The victory earns No. 3-ranked ONU (26-1) an automatic bid in the NCAA Division III tournament. ONU won both the regular season and the OAC tournament title. Otterbein is 21-6.
“It’s a dream come true,” ONU forward Joanna Snyder. “As you could see at the end of the game we were all so excited, jumping up and down. It’s a feeling I’ll know I’ll never forget. For the rest of my life I’ll remember tonight, this whole season.”
ONU extended its winning streak to 25 games.
Added ONU coach Michele Durand, “Unbelievable, happy, proud, it’s all those things.”
Snyder led the Polar Bears with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. She hit 6 of 12 from the field. Morgan Dumbaugh added 12 points and five rebounds. She was 4 of 7 on 3-pointers.
Freshman Brooke Espenschied had 10 points. Cenzie Yoder added eight points and five rebounds. Taylor Hermiller had eight points.
Point guard Katie Mengos ran the floor and had seven assists.
ONU’s last trip to the women’s NCAA Tournament was 1988, the last time it won the OAC tournament and regular season titles.
ONU went inside to Yoder early and the Polar Bears bounced to an 18-8 lead against the Otterbein 2-3 zone.
“We know our girls get better shots from the outside when we kick it in and kick it back out,” Yoder said.
At that point Yoder had six points and was 3 of 3 from the field down low.
“We’re not going to give up loose balls, we’re not going to let you get uncontested shots and we’re not going to let you push us around,” Yoder said. “That’s the kind of team we are.”
ONU’s first-half lead grew to 30-16. It would take a 39-29 lead into halftime.
“I thought we started the first half really well. We shot the ball pretty well (50 percent) in the first half,” Durand said. “And I thought our defense was outstanding to hold them to 46 points is really, really good.”
The Polar Bears then started the second half with a 12-0 burst to pull out to a 51-29 lead with 16:57 to go. It was never close after that.
“We’re going to come out (in the second half) and run them off the floor and that’s what we do,” Yoder said. “We just come out, put the foot on the gas.”
To start the run, Snyder hit a layup, a 12-footer and reverse layup on a quick pass from Yoder. Dumbaugh then dropped a 3-pointer and Taylor Hermiller connected on a three-point play.
“We always try to go inside and we made a little adjustment against their zone in the second half,” Durand said. “That’s how Jo got loose.”
Snyder said, “To get good shots we need to go inside first, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Cenzie and I have to shoot it, but we need to go inside and then we can look to go to the basket or to throw it outside. We did want to work through the miller and it just so happened that I was open and Cenzie was open.”
Defensively, ONU held 17-point Otterbein scorer Hannah Day to eight points on 3 of 15 shooting. Spending most of the time watching Day were Hermiller and Espenschied.
“She’s a dynamic player and Brooke and I knew we had a large task ahead of us tonight,” Hermiller said of Day. “I think we both did a great job and hustled. We also had our other teammates helped out on her. … We held them to 46 points, which is amazing.”
Snyder and Yoder made the all-OAC tournament team. Snyder was named the tournament MVP.
The NCAA will announce the Division III bracket Monday afternoon. ONU will be on the road next weekend because ONU will host the NCAA regional wrestling.
“We don’t find anything out until Monday so we’re going to enjoy this for now,” Durand said.
Snyder added, “It’s been printed, ‘We’re magical,’ It’s just wonderful.”