SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Blink and you probably missed a bucket – or a turnover – in the Concordia University women’s basketball first-round national tournament loss early Wednesday morning. Against seventh-seeded Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.), an up-tempo team to the max, the second-seeded Bulldogs fell, 91-86, at the 2014 State-Farm NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships.
The Bulldogs (25-8), making their sixth national tournament appearance in head coach Drew Olson’s eight years, exited the tournament in the first round for the second-straight year.
While Concordia put up 86 points, the things it didn’t do cost it a chance to play on Friday in the second round. The Bulldogs were held to 37.6 percent shooting, they turned it over 31 times and they shot only 56 percent (14-for-25) from the free throw line.
“We didn’t have the toughness to win today,” Olson said. “We missed a ton of layups. We missed free throws. Down the stretch we settled for threes. Offensively we weren’t ready to handle them.”
Olson and his squad knew they would be taking on an unfamiliar style patterned after the Grinnell College (Iowa) men’s basketball team. Even with about a week to prepare, the adjustment proved to be a difficult one versus a Tiger team that led the nation in scoring coming into action.
“We turned the ball over a lot in the first half due to not being used to their style,” Olson said. “Once we got used to it we took care of the ball a little bit better, but we never really took advantage of what they did. We had spurts where we would maybe tie or take the lead for a little bit, but we didn’t have the composure to keep the lead and extend it.”
Bulldog junior point guard Bailey Morris played only 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. She managed to foul only once in the second half but she struggled with her shot, going 5-for-19 from the field. Morris, the GPAC Player of the Year, finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Morris was part of a solid defensive effort. Olivet Nazarene (23-10) shot only 33.8 percent, turned it over 27 times and its 91 points were 17 below its season average. The Bulldogs also held a slight 59-55 edge on the boards.
Concordia looked like it may be on the verge of taking control when it began the second half on a 10-0 run. Morris fueled the spurt with eight quick points, including a triple that put the Bulldogs up 53-50 – their first lead of the game. The Tigers roared right back with a 14-0 run.
Olivet Nazarene eventually broke an 82-82 tie in the final three minutes with a Taylor Hames back-breaking 3-pointer. Second-year head coach Lauren Stamatis’ squad led from that point on.
“I’m just so proud of the girls,” Stamatis said. “We talk a lot about continuing to play through the circumstances we’re faced with. We knew they were going to go on some runs.
“They just continued to play our game and I’m just so proud of the way they played it.”
Olivet Nazarene led by as many as 10 points in the first half and again by as many as eight points in the second half. The Tigers did so despite making only 8 of 43 attempts from long range. That rough shooting effort was combatted by a big performance from Cortney Allenbaugh (22 points and seven rebounds) off the bench.
Crucial in the loss was a five-minute stretch in the second half in which Concordia failed to score. After extending their lead to 56-50 with 17:23 left, the Bulldogs did not score again until Kelsey Hizer’s layup with 12:11 remaining.
Hizer finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for her first career double-double. Junior Tracy Peitz totaled a game high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and four steals. Freshman Becky Mueller added 19 points and nine rebounds.
Four Tigers finished in double figures in scoring, topped by Allenbaugh’s 22.
While the loss stings, Concordia shared the GPAC regular-season title in a season that could have been derailed by the rash of injuries it experienced. The Bulldogs played without two-time All-American Kristen Conahan and Jericca Pearson on Wednesday and throughout most of the second half of the season.
“I had a great time with this team. That’s what hurts so bad,” Olson said. “What they did second semester – they have a lot to be proud of. That’s why I felt like this team deserved to continue on. Without Conahan and Pearson, a lot people didn’t think we would get to the national tournament.”
Looking ahead to 2014-15, Olson will bring back the bulk of his varsity roster. Conahan and fellow seniors Britney Birtell and Lori Laboda will depart.