Photo Description: Senior Mackenzie Toomey takes a tough shot against a Dordt defender at Monday night’s game.
Photo Credit: Esther Molina
In a matchup originally postponed by an unforgiving Nebraska winter, the two top dogs in the GPAC faced off in Seward Monday night with Concordia falling to Dordt in heartbreaking fashion, 84-79.
The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Defenders had heavy-weight written all over it—the two fighters playing for rights to the GPAC rather than a belt. The conference rivals found themselves as the only nationally ranked squads in the GPAC in the January 31 Coaches’ Poll, with Concordia ranked six overall in the NAIA and Dort being the cream de la cream—first in the nation.
In the black shorts were the Defenders. Undefeated in the GPAC coming into Monday night Dordt had only lost to the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits back in December, a non-conference game. Tied for fourth in the nation in points per game at 85.9, the Defenders are also fifth of all NAIA teams with a .473 shooting percentage.
In the opposite corner and wearing the white shorts were the Bulldogs. Coming into the game the hometown team boasted similar yet slightly less impressive offensive statistics. Concordia is 18th in the nation in points per game with 80.8 while shooting at a clip of 43.7%. The Bulldogs similarly had not lost a game since December with Concorida boasting a 12-game win streak before tip-off.
The game began with likely the most intense back-and-forth the Bulldogs have participated in this season. The longest run either team could muster through the first two frames was eight points and the largest lead by either squad was six when the Defenders went up 25-19 late in the first quarter.
Junior forward Abby Heemstra proved to be a reliable option in the first quarter as she scored six points, not missing a field goal until late in the opening frame.
Through 20 minutes of play 10 players on the court had 5 or more points, six Defenders and four Bulldogs. Notable for Concordia was the season-long spark plug, junior guard Mackenzie Toomey who boasted 12 points (all of which were scored in the second quarter) when the Bulldogs headed into the locker room with a two point, 48-46 lead.
Toomey finished the night with 16 points when it was all said and done to go along with eight rebounds and three assists.
The second half echoed much of the first half – similar tone but different faces behind the scoring. Just like the first, no team was able to garner a double-digit lead. The Defenders came closest when they were leading 76-69 with 5:44 left in the contest.
Head Coach Drew Olsen highlighted his team’s endurance in the post game interview:
“(Dordt and Concordia) are two elite teams. As for our endurance, we’ve got some tough kids that can fight through a lot of things. We just went out there and played six games in twelve days. It’s been a gauntlet but that just shows the toughness and character we have on the team.”
Junior guard Taysha Rushton scored a bulk of her points in the second half and finished the night shooting 50% (8-16) with 19 points, three rebounds and four assists. However, the team leader would miss both her three point attempts, a trend that seemed to affect the entire team.
On the night the Bulldogs finished making just four of their 22 three point attempts, good for a shooting percentage of just .182. This was dwarfed by the Defenders who drained eight of 25, good for a mark of .32.
All in all, these shooting woes would be the downfall of the Bulldogs in the final moments of the frame, as Concordia saw a two point deficit turn into a five point deficit within a minute of time left on the clock. When asked about these late game miscues however, Coach Olsen preferred to view the game as a complete package:
“Those kinds of games come down to a couple people making a couple plays,” said Olsen. “Defensively I thought we were really good. Unfortunately we got called for a couple of fouls there [late in the game] that gave them freebies… Everybody is going to look at those plays at the end but it’s a compilation—it’s transition defense. We let them get loose a couple of times in the second and third quarter in transition. It was a great game. There is a lot to take away and we’ll keep battling.”
The Bulldogs will have their chance for revenge, as the two squads will meet again on February 17th in Defender territory up at Sioux Center, Iowa. When asked about this matchup and what he expected to see, Olsen took a page out of Bill Belichick’s book:
“All I’m thinking about is College of Saint Mary Wednesday and then Dakota Wesleyan Sunday,” said Coach, “Those are the big ones.”
Coach has a point. Dakota Wesleyan will be a tough challenge that Concordia can’t afford to overlook. The Tigers just barely missed an entry in the last Coaches’ Poll, being the top vote-getter outside of the top 25. As for the College of Saint Mary, the two squads will face off in Seward February 7th. Tip off Wednesday will be at 7:00pm.