SEWARD, Neb. – The ninth-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team was up to its old tricks on Saturday afternoon, forcing 22 Morningside turnovers in the first half. However, the Bulldogs were unable to overcome a 43-23 disadvantage on the boards and fell, 78-70, to the second-ranked Mustangs in a battle of top 10 NAIA Division II teams.
Concordia and Morningside (7-0, 1-0 GPAC) entered Saturday’s showdown as two of 20 remaining undefeated teams in the nation. The Bulldogs (5-1, 1-1 GPAC) came up short in their attempt to record their fourth win over a top-20 rated opponent.
“It’s frustrating because I felt like we controlled the tempo most of the game, especially in the first half,” ninth-year head coach Drew Olson said. “We were forcing the action and causing turnovers. We had control up 10 with two minutes left in the first half and had some bad turnovers and let them get back in it.”
Not so unexpectedly, star 6-foot post Ashlynn Muhl gave the Bulldogs headaches on the interior. Muhl’s work inside spurred Morningside’s plus-20 rebounding advantage. Muhl posted 21 points and 12 rebounds, equaling the game high point totals put up by teammates Lexi Ackerman and Madison Braun.
Concordia led by as many as 10 points following back-to-back treys from Bailey Morris and Kelsey Hizer to finish off a 10-0 late first-half run. The Bulldogs outscored Morningside 36-16 over a stretch of almost 14 minutes of the opening half. But the Mustangs took the momentum to the locker room when Taylor Bahensky came up with a steal and then threw in a long three at the buzzer, cutting Concordia’s lead to 38-36.
The Mustangs, who won their first six contests by an average of 32.0 points per game, led for the majority of the second half. The Bulldogs hoisted only 21 shots in the second half, due in part to grabbing only one offensive rebound over the final 20 minutes. The Mustangs held Concordia without a field goal in the game’s closing four minutes and sealed the win with 5-for-6 free throw shooting down the stretch.
“I didn’t feel like a starting group came out with the energy we needed in the second half,” Olson said. “Every time we got a lead Morningside would hit a three or get an and one. We didn’t close well in the first half or at the end.”
The Bulldogs took a one-point advantage into the final three minutes thanks to a big splurge from Hizer. She tallied seven of Concordia’s eight points during an 8-3 run that edged her squad in front, 69-68.
“Kelsey played great. Her overall game was very good,” Olson said. “I thought Jenna (Lehmann) was fantastic. She finished well and gave us a good post presence. I thought Becky (Mueller) played well. She worked her tail off defensively guarding a bigger player.”
Saturday’s game featured large runs on both sides. Following a Morris steal and layup out of the gates, Morningside went on a 12-0 run. After falling behind by 10, the Mustangs responded with a 13-0 run that began late in the first half and spilled into the second 20-minute stanza.
Mueller topped Concordia with 15 points. She went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Hizer put up 14 points while Morris added nine points, six assists and six steals.
Concordia and Morningside will meet again in Sioux City, Iowa, on Feb. 21. The two GPAC powers shared last season’s conference regular-season title along with Hastings and Northwestern.
The Bulldogs will be back at home on Tuesday to host a nonconference tilt with Grace University (2-4) at 5 p.m. The Royals, a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association, have played two GPAC opponents already. They have dropped games against Mount Marty (105-40) and No. 15 Northwestern (112-24).