ORANGE CITY, Iowa – A battle between the top two rated teams in NAIA Division II women’s basketball lived up to the billing, at least in terms of late game drama. In this particular nail biter, the top-ranked Bulldogs let a 15-point first half lead melt away in an 81-75 loss at No. 2 Northwestern on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 2). The Red Raiders had been idle since a stunning upset loss at Doane last week.
Saturday’s result means that 13th-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad has dropped back into a three-way tie with Northwestern and No. 4 Dakota Wesleyan atop the GPAC standings. Concordia is now 23-3 overall and 15-3 in conference play.
“I thought our kids came out with really good focus,” Olson said. “Defensively we were fantastic and we got a lot of stuff offensively because of the pressure that we put on. In the second quarter we hit a wall a little bit. Offensively we weren’t moving the ball very well and Northwestern did a better job. They were tougher defensively and they handled our pressure a little better.”
The Red Raiders (21-3, 15-3 GPAC) made a nice recovery after missing their first 11 field goal attempts of the game. Those struggles helped the Bulldogs build a 21-6 lead by the end of the opening quarter. The roles reversed in the second stanza and it was a grind from that point. Northwestern trended upward as star Kassidy De Jong (team high 25 points) caught fire. The Red Raiders pushed their lead to 10 early in the fourth period.
Sophomore Taylor Cockerill led the charge in rallying Concordia back into the lead (74-73) with 2:15 left on the clock. The Bulldogs just couldn’t make the big play down the stretch. Three of Concordia’s final four possessions ended with turnovers in a frustrating final minute. Northwestern’s Haley Birks put the finishing touches on her team’s win by draining four free throws in the closing seconds.
The Bulldogs needed more production like what Cockerill provided. She racked up a game high 28 points (9-for-11 from the free throw line). The Waverly High School product knocked down a triple on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter to cut into the deficit. A hero down the stretch in Wednesday’s win over No. 14 Dordt, Mackenzie Koepke also surfaced with trey during the team’s push in the waning moments.
“I loved her mindset coming into the game,” Olson said of Koepke. “She came in very aggressive shooting the ball. Defensively she’s getting much better. Hopefully we can keep evolving her game and get her more minutes.”
Northwestern shot a fairly respectable 43.1 percent (25-for-58) from the floor considering how it started the game. De Jong and Birks (10 points, three steals) were the lone Red Raiders in double figures, though four players had either eight or nine points for the victors. This was quite a turnaround from one week ago for head coach Chris Yaw’s squad, which has its own aspirations of making a deep run in March.
Koepke finished with 14 points while going 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Grace Barry (11 points, two steals) also hit double figures. Northwestern was able to limit Philly Lammers to eight points and one rebound. The boards were an issue for the Bulldogs, who were outnumbered 49-29 in rebounds. Those troubles negated a 27-20 edge in turnovers. Concordia also shot only 38.8 percent from the field.
The Bulldogs will head back to northwest Iowa on Wednesday when they travel to No. 8 Morningside (18-8, 10-8 GPAC) for a 6 p.m. CST tipoff in Sioux City. Concordia hopes to avenge a home loss to the Mustangs that occurred on Nov. 28. In Saturday’s action, Morningside got upset at Mount Marty, 62-57.