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NAMPA — Down two starters and having to playing with an adjusted lineup, the Northwest Nazarene women’s basketball team was able to take No. 11 Alaska Anchorage down to the wire.

But 11 3-pointers by the Seawolves and a 4-of-16 shooting performance in the fourth quarter proved too much for the Nighthawks to overcome.

Northwest Nazarene fell 76-72 to Alaska Anchorage on Saturday, missing chances to tie, and possibly win, the game in the final minute.

“We played with them and battled with one of the top 25 teams in the nation,” said freshman Teagan Thurman, who finished with a career-high 24 points, her fourth straight game scoring 17 or more. “That’s really impressive, so I’m really excited for what this team has in store.”

Thurman also had 11 rebounds as she made her second straight start. She was starting in the place of Erin Jenkins, who is currently in COVID-19 protocol. Northwest Nazarene (9-4, 3-2 GNAC) was also without freshman guard Ashlynn Sylve, who was in concussion protocol following a car accident.

“Especially for teams like us and Anchorage, the style that we play, we’ve got to have a deep bench,” said Northwest Nazarene coach Steve Steele, who remains hopeful both can return next week at Simon Fraser and Western Washington. “It’s very difficult to play our style when our bench isn’t as deep as you’d like it to be. It’s also hard to know when kids are going to be available. You know when they’re out, but you’re not sure when they’re going to come back. It’s hard to practice, it’s hard to game plan, but everyone has to game plan, not just us.”

Despite all the shuffling, the Nighthawks kept pace with the Seawolves (9-1, 2-0) — who were playing in their first game following a COVID-19 pause — for 40 minutes, often times looking like they were on the brink of pulling away.

“It gives us confidence in how we can compete and how well we can play together,” said junior Jordan Pinson, who finished one point shy of her career high, with 17 points. “Playing with Anchorage is always a tough game. We played them tough and we played them hard and it’s good reassurance for us. We are young, but we are still a good team.”

Pinson and Cami Knishka hit early 3-pointers for the Nighthawks, helping them jump out to a quick 8-4 lead. Northwest Nazarene extended its lead to 26-19 midway through the second quarter on a Pinson 3-pointer, but the Seawolves responded with a 5-0 run capped by a Jahnna Hajdukovich 3-pointer.

The 3-point defense seemed to haunt Northwest Nazarene all game long, as the Seawolves hit theirs at opportune times to halt Nighthawk runs.

“I think the difference in the game is they shot 44% from the 3-point line,” Steele said. “Some kids that we didn’t expect to shoot as well as they did, they did. ... They had some kids we haven’t seen hit some big shots for them. That was probably the difference.”

Thurman was 8 for 11 from the field in the first half, going into the locker room with 19 points. With 38 seconds left in the half, she took a dish pass from Pinson for the easy layup, putting the Nighthawks ahead 38-34.

“Teagan is a wrecking ball,” said Pinson. “She’s going to go for every ball, every rebound she can get. She’s aggressive, she can score and she’s just a player you do not want to play against you want her on your team.”

Alaska Anchorage responded with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to a single point heading into the locker room.

The Nighthawks ended the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 57-50 lead heading into the fourth, and once again looked to have momentum going in their favor. But a Ra’Anaa Bey 3-pointer gave Alaska Anchorage the lead back early in the final quarter.

After a back-and-fourth final quarter, the Nighthawks found themselves down 69-68 following a basket by Nicole Gall with 58 seconds left.

This time it was three points the old fashion way that did in Northwest Nazarene and Sala Langi hit a layup for Alaska Anchorage, was fouled on the shot and hit the free throw.

Even despite two turnovers, Northwest Nazarene had a chance to come back from a 74-68 deficit, with Nyalam Thabach making two of three free throws to cut the deficit to four. Following a five-second violation on the Seawolves, Pinson was fouled on a 3-point attempt. She made her first two and missed the third on purpose, trying to get an offensive rebound.

It didn’t work and Alaska Anchorage hit two free throws to seal the game.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” Pinson said. “Credit to Anchorage, they’re super good. But like I said, we were competing with them, and we had a chance to win. I think we had the chance to win. So, it was a little heartbreaking, so It’s still super important to play though it and play until the last second.”

Thabach finished with 10 points.

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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