SEWARD, Neb. – After relinquishing a 20-point lead in a double overtime loss at Dordt back on Jan. 2, the top-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team flipped the script in its latest meeting with the Defenders. The outcome of this breakneck-paced heart thumper hung in the balance all the way until the clock hit zeroes. A frantic final few seconds gave way to the Bulldogs exhaling in response to a 90-88 win over No. 14 Dordt inside Walz Arena on Wednesday (Jan. 30).
Thirteenth-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad was able to maintain its one-game edge atop the GPAC standings. Concordia now stands at 23-2 overall and at 15-2 in conference play.
After a string of blowout wins, the Bulldogs were pushed to the max in a classic Walz tilt. From a pure fan entertainment standpoint, this was about as good as it gets.
“I don’t know exactly what happened at the end there. It was kind of crazy,” Olson said. “It was just two really, really good teams battling. I thought they did a great job early on of kind of punching us in the mouth. We did a great job responding in the second quarter and then the second half was a dogfight.”
The tenor of this game changed down the stretch of the fourth quarter after Philly Lammers of Concordia and Rachel Evavold of Dordt fouled out. Suddenly, both teams dug in defensively. The Bulldogs made only one field goal – a big one by Mackenzie Koepke – over the game’s final 6:45 of game time and somehow still found a way to get it done.
Leading 90-87 with 6.5 seconds left, Olson elected to foul the Defenders (17-8, 10-7 GPAC). On the clinching possession, Annie Rhinesmith was initially ruled to have been in the act of shooting a 3-pointer before officials changed the call to a two-shot foul. Rhinesmith made the first free throw and then missed the second, sending all 10 players on the court into a frenzy. Two Dordt attempts at a put back were unsuccessful and Concordia hung on.
Both teams held a double digit advantage in the game before it settled into a white knuckler in crunch time. Koepke went only 4-for-13 from the floor, but she made two of the game’s most significant plays. She swatted a shot in the final minute that led to Taylor Cockerill canning two free throws (88-85 score at the time). Koepke’s bucket off the dish from Grace Barry in the closing ticks made it 90-87 and provided the winning margin.
“It was just support from my teammates,” Koepke said of her confidence in the clutch. “Throughout practice and the whole season they’ve been so positive, helpful and encouraging.”
Barry served as the catalyst in turning around a 45-32 deficit in the second quarter. The Lincoln East product spurred a 29-6 run that put Concordia up by 10 in the third quarter. Barry (15 points,10 assists, nine rebounds, six steals) just missed a triple-double. Lammers led the Bulldogs with 20 points despite fouling out in 14 minutes of action. Cockerill (17), Koepke (10) and Quinn Wragge (10) also reached double figures in scoring.
Dordt was paced by the 21 points and 10 rebounds from star Erika Feenstra. The Defenders could not quite overcome their 31 turnovers, though they owned advantages of 48-44 on the boards and 32-16 in free throw attempts.
The string of games against ranked opponents will continue at 2 p.m. CST on Saturday when the Bulldogs play at No. 2 Northwestern (20-3, 14-3 GPAC). Concordia toppled the Red Raiders, 93-85, inside Walz Arena on Jan. 5. Northwestern had Wednesday off after a surprising upset loss at Doane last week.
“We want to play those kinds of games,” Olson said of the showdowns yet to come. “We want to be prepared for the end of the season. We love it. We embrace it. Hopefully we’ll be ready for the next one.”