Loyola downs No. 3 Langston Friday in NAIA Opening Round matchup

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PARK CITY, Kan. – Making its eighth straight appearance in the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship, the Loyola University New Orleans women’s basketball team won its Opening Round contest with the Langston (Okla.) Lions Friday in Park City, Kansas, 71-64.

The Wolf Pack (21-1), which now has won 16 straight games, will play Concordia (Neb.) Saturday at 1 p.m. in Park City. The winner moves on to the Round of 16 in Sioux City, Iowa, where the final four rounds of the tournament will take place over a six-day span starting Thursday, March 18.

The first quarter was a defensive battle for both teams, as Langston and Loyola struggled to find the bottom of the basket. The lead changed six times in the first quarter, but the Lions took a 16-11 lead after the first 10 minutes. Sandra Cannady got the Wolf Pack on the board first, then Chelsea Gray, Taylor Thomas and Kennedy Hansberry all scored to help Loyola stay within striking distance after 10 minutes of play.

The Wolf Pack battled full-court pressure for most of the first half, and their shots started the fall in the second quarter. Presley Wascom hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the frame, quickly giving Loyola a 16-14 lead, but once again, the two teams traded the lead multiple times until Thomas lobbed an assist to Cannady in the paint to put the Pack up 28-24 with less than five minutes in the first half. Wascom’s third 3 of the quarter, which came in the final 30 seconds, helped send Loyola into halftime with a 33-28 advantage.

The third quarter started much like the first two quarters, as each team had an answer for the other on the offensive end of the floor. Loyola made it a seven-point game twice in the early going, highlighted by a steal-and-score from Cannady, but Langston cut the score to 39-38 with more than six minutes left in the frame. Cannady answered the quick Lion run with an old-fashioned 3-point play, then Jazmene McMillan hit two free throws before using a spin move in the paint to push Loyola’s lead to 46-38. With 90 seconds remaining in the quarter, Hansberry gave the Wolf Pack their first double-digit lead, 51-40 with an easy score, as the Pack went into the fourth quarter with a 54-45 advantage.

With their season on the line, the Lions made things interesting by cutting the lead to five less than halfway into the fourth, 56-54. Cannady quickly extended the lead to 63-54 with two free throws and a field goal in a two-minute span, and after Langston answered, Tera Snell hit a 3-pointer to keep the Lions from getting too close.

Loyola’s 16-game win streak is the program’s longest since the 2007-08 season.

Sandra Cannady’s game-high 23 points are also a career best. She led Loyola with nine rebounds, too.

Two other Wolf Pack players scored in double figures: Taylor Thomas with 17 and Presley Wascom with 10.

Wascom’s three assists were a team-high. She also out-scored Langston from three-point range, hitting three triples while the Lions made just one.

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