Drama-filled battle of powerhouses goes to Bulldogs

By Jake Knabel on Dec. 19, 2017 in Women's Basketball

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – This one had the drama and the high-level play you might expect to see in a late round game at the national tournament. Two top five teams. Both undefeated. What more could you ask of a mid-December showdown? Overtime? You got it. In an all-time classic for regular-season play, the second-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team broke No. 4 College of the Ozarks’ heart with a 103-101 overtime victory in Point Lookout, Mo., on Tuesday evening (Dec. 19).

No deficit has phased 12th-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad. For the third game in a row, the Bulldogs brushed aside a double-digit hole on the way to victory. At 12-0, Concordia is one of only two undefeated teams still standing in NAIA Division II.

“That was an incredible game,” Olson said. “Both teams played great basketball. In the first half they did such a good job against our press. They handled it and shot incredible. We went into halftime and Coach (Tae’lor) Purdy-Korell came up with the adjustment: ‘Hey, let’s go 3-2 zone.’

“That was a big part of our success in the second half. We played with more focus knowing shooters. I really felt like Mack (MacKenzie Helman) set the tone for us. She really brought us back into the game. Then we just had a lot of people step up and make plays in the second half.”

This Concordia team has some cockroach-like qualities in that you just can’t kill it. In what looked like a last chance opportunity with the Bulldogs down three (91-88) in the final half minute of regulation, junior Quinn Wragge drilled a game-tying trey from the left wing, forcing the extra session. Wragge played huge down the stretch, putting up 10 of her 22 points during a five-and-a-half minute capsule that spanned the end of the fourth quarter and overtime.

Trailing 97-96 with less than 2:30 left in the extra period, freshman Taylor Cockerill nailed a triple that wound up being the most critical shot in overtime. A key stop on the next possession and two Mary Janovich free throws pushed the lead to 102-98 with :5.1 remaining. Once again, the Bulldogs could not be killed.

This game was eerily similar to the 91-83 overtime win at then ninth-ranked University of Jamestown on Nov. 10. Just like that outing, Concordia faced a double-digit deficit. It stared down an 11-point disadvantage in the opening moments of the third quarter. That’s when Helman went on a personal 8-0 run that slashed the Lady Bobcat lead to 53-50. From there it became a fight to the finish. The Bulldogs took their first lead of the second half on a Janovich bucket that made it 76-75 at the 6:25 mark of the fourth quarter.

In a Keeter Gym that has housed many years of NAIA Division II men’s basketball national tournament games, this particular matchup felt a little bigger than a typical December nonconference tilt.

“It maybe more so (felt like a national tournament game) for me because I’ve been here for many national tournaments,” Olson said. “I got that feeling during the shoot around. When the game started you could just tell: these are two really good teams. It turned out to be a great basketball game.”

Dani Hoppes drained her first three attempts from long range while helping Concordia jet out to a 10-0 lead. She equaled Wragge’s team high of 22 points. That number is a career best in a Bulldog uniform for Hoppes. Three other Concordia players reached double figures: Cockerill (17), Janovich (15) and Helman (11). Hoppes added four steals and Janovich dished out five assists. The Bulldogs had to win it in crunch time without Colby Duvel and Philly Lammers, who both fouled out.

Coached by Becky Vest, College of the Ozarks (13-1) is a perennial power used to making deep national tournament runs. The Lady Bobcats were paced by 24 points from Cassidy Johnson. Do-everything point guard Kelsie Cleeton posted 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Ozarks slipped from 54.5 percent (18-for-33) shooting in the first half to 35.3 percent (12-for-34) shooting in the second half. On the other end, Concordia shot a sizzling 56.5 percent (39-for-69) on the evening.

The road swing continues on Wednesday with a visit to Lawrence, Kan., location of Haskell Indian Nations University. The Bulldogs and Indians (4-13) will tip off at 5:30 p.m. CT. The two sides also met last season in Bellevue, Neb., with the result being a 99-44 Concordia win.