SEWARD, Neb. – It wasn’t a thing of beauty but at night’s end, the 21st-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team had added to the win column. After visiting Jamestown erased a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes, star guard Taysha Rushton kissed the game winner off the glass as time expired, lifting the Bulldogs to a 69-67 home victory on Tuesday (Nov. 23). Concordia pulled it out despite shooting a rough 26.3 percent from the floor in the first half.
Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad continues to alternate wins and losses each time out in the early going. Concordia has moved to 4-3 overall and to 2-2 in league play.
“Jamestown is a tough team,” Olson said. “They’ve had some good wins. At the end there, we were trying to get the ball to (Rylee) Pauli and get (Mackenzie) Toomey on a handoff to the rim. Toomey made the right decision – Bailey (Conrad) finds Taysha and thankfully the backboard was there for us.”
The Jimmies made two critical plays down the stretch that gave them a chance for the road win. In the final minute, Noelle Josephson struck for three points the old-fashioned way and Hannah DeMars clutched up with the game-tying trey with 9.5 seconds left on the clock. The Bulldogs then called timeout to draw up a play and to advance the ball to halfcourt.
When the ball finally wound up in Rushton’s hands at the top the circle, she took one dribble with her right hand and threw up a runner from just outside the free throw line. The thing about a big-time shot-maker like Rushton is that she always believes the next one is going down.
Said Rushton, “That last minute Jamestown was making a run back at us, so the whole time I was just thinking to keep my composure and keep my teammates’ composure as well. Last seconds – I just went and got the ball and threw up a prayer, really. I didn’t even know if it was going in. When I saw it go in, it was just pure excitement and joy.”
Sure that moment was fun, but much of the game was like pulling teeth. It was a sluggish first half for Concordia, which found itself down by as many as 11 points. Behind DeMars (17 points and eight rebounds), the Jimmies were up for the challenge. They didn’t even blink when the Bulldogs had seemingly taken control in the fourth quarter. A three-point play by Kayla Luebbe pushed Concordia’s lead to 55-47 with seven minutes to play.
There’s something to be said for the ability of the Bulldogs to find a way, even on a night when they shot 32.9 percent (23-for-70) from the floor and netted only four 3-point field goals. Rushton paced all scorers with 20 points (6-for-7 on free throws). Luebbe added 11 points off the bench and Toomey filled the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals. Pauli chipped in with six points and nine rebounds and Hailey Kleinschmit came through off the bench with eight points.
Said Olson, “I’m really proud of our team. I thought we showed a lot of heart and toughness because we were definitely not at our best mentally, physically and performance-wise. The second half, we kind of found a way. It feels really good to pull one out. You need some of those games during a season when you’re not at your best, but you still win.”
This was another installment of Olson versus former Concordia Men’s Basketball teammate Thad Sankey, who is in his fourth season as head coach at Jamestown. To this point, Olson has won each meeting. The Jimmies are now 4-4 overall (1-3 GPAC).
After celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, the Bulldogs will hit the road for a clash with third-ranked Wayland Baptist University (8-0). Tipoff from Plainview, Texas, is set for 11 a.m. CT on Saturday. The journey south will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Rushton, a native of Midland, Texas.