Concordia survives OT thriller versus Benedictine, marches to second round

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 16, 2024 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – In the first-ever basketball national tournament game hosted inside Friedrich Arena, the madness of March did not disappoint. Visiting Benedictine College (Kan.), seeded 14th, came within an eyelash of a road upset in a spirited effort that forced the third-seeded Concordia University Women’s Basketball team to dig deep. Ultimately, the Bulldogs rattled off the final 10 points of overtime and escaped the upset bid with a 67-57 heart stopper of a win on Friday (March 15). Survive and advance, indeed.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad moved to 26-6 overall while raising the blood pressure of its fans. For the second year in a row, Concordia has advanced to the NAIA’s round of 32.

“Incredible,” Olson said. “Two really tough gritty teams and I knew that going in. I felt like we were the better team, but I just knew Benedictine was really well-coached and disciplined. They were going to fight. We get our early lead and we felt good about it and we knew they were going to come back, but I wasn't expecting us to go so cold. We didn't shoot really well in the second and third quarters, which caused a little bit of angst. But man – the grit and toughness of our team when were down seven and we respond. It was just an incredible win.”

To be frank, this one was ugly for the better part of the 40 minutes of regulation. The Bulldogs built a 22-8 lead into the second quarter and missed an opportunity to put the game away early. An extended scoring drought in the second quarter gave way to a white-knuckler down to the final whistle. Back-to-back fourth quarter triples by Kennedy Nicholson gave the Ravens a 43-36 lead. Finally, the shots started falling at just the right time and senior Sadie Powell gritted her way to 23 critical points.

A clutch trey from Taysha Rushton in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter briefly edged Concordia in front, 54-53. After the Bulldogs missed their next two shots, Benedictine had a chance at a potential game-winning basket with two cracks at it in a hold-your-breath final 30 seconds of regulation. The Heart of America Athletic Conference foe had given Concordia its best shot.

Overtime was owned by the Bulldogs, who quickly took the lead on Abby Krieser’s perimeter jumper. Kendal Brigham helped ice the game with a steal and a coast-to-coast layup that fired up a frenzied Friedrich Arena crowd. At that point, Concordia enjoyed a commanding 65-57 lead with under two minutes left in overtime.

Both sides shot below 35 percent in the contest that was all about survival. Powell added six rebounds, five steals and four assists to her stat line as she helped will the Bulldogs to the finish line. Rushton collected 16 points and five assists and Brigham supplied 15 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists. Rushton canned four treys in her seventh career national tournament game. The long ball (10-for-32 from distance) helped the Bulldogs through their perilous journey. Krieser also chipped in with nine points and five rebounds in a game that saw six Concordia players log the bulk of the minutes.

“It feels so good to be moving on,” Powell said. “We are so happy we got the first one out of the way and are ready for the next one. Both defenses battled. Everyone was really tough on the floor. We had to work really hard for every shot.”

“To be honest, I have no idea,” said Olson of how his team eventually sprung to life offensively. “We drew something up to get Taysha wide open in the corner and it was a huge shot by her. We told them to keep attacking and trying to get to the rim. Our team was really tough and stepped up in big ways.”

Benedictine (20-12) attempted to do what it did to the Bulldogs two years ago when it eliminated them from the bracket in a matchup in Crestview Hills, Ky. The Ravens were led on Friday by the 15 points from Aaliyah Raines. Lauryn Dubbert came off the bench to post 11 points. Benedictine led the rebound column, 53-34, which helped offset its minus-17 turnover margin. To their credit, the Ravens found some traction against the press after struggling mightily in the early going.

While making the program’s 23rd all-time national tournament appearance, the Bulldogs will aspire to claim national tournament win No. 40 as part of Saturday’s second-round action. In the later game inside Friedrich Arena, 11th-seeded William Baptist University (Texas) upset sixth-seeded Columbia College (Mo.), 66-62. Megan Nestor led the Flying Queens with 19 points and 20 rebounds.

For more details on Concordia’s bracket of the national tournament, click HERE.