FREMONT, Neb. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team never gave up after a rough start on Wednesday night, but came just short of a victory that would have kept its postseason hopes alive.
The Warriors (9-17, 5-13 GPAC) overcame an abysmal first half of play to take a lead late, but couldn’t hold off the Concordia Bulldogs (20-9, 11-8 GPAC), who escaped the scare and held on for an 89-83 road victory. The loss mathematically eliminates the Warriors from the GPAC Postseason Tournament after entering the night with the No. 8 seed still within reach.
“We never really got in a rhythm in that first half and we were fortunate only to be down two possessions,” said Midland head coach Oliver Drake. “I thought in the second half we got into a good rhythm.”
To start the game, both teams struggled mightily to find baskets. After taking a 5-1 lead in the first three minutes, the Warriors went scoreless for nearly eight minutes while the Bulldogs went on a 12-0 run. Concordia wasn’t exactly clicking on offense, which allowed the Warriors to stay close despite the lackluster shooting numbers.
Concordia led by as many as 14 in the first half eventually took a 31-25 lead at the break after the Warriors scored the final eight points of the period. The Warriors shot just 27.8 percent from the field (10-for-36) but still found themselves in position for the win.
The Warriors didn’t let their bad first half overwhelm them as they came out in the second half ready to overcome their struggles. Midland scored 58 points in the second half after managing just 25 in the first 20 minutes and only five points in the game’s first 10 minutes.
To start the second half, the team’s traded buckets for 10 minutes as Concordia also began to find its offensive rhythm. The Bulldogs maintained a two-possession lead during that time until a three-pointer from freshman Arturo Montes cut the lead to two points.
“We felt like we were in a good position to only be down two possessions to a really good team after the way we played,” Drake said. “We just said to keep fighting, keep battling, and good things will come.”
Montes’ three started a string of five straight possessions with bucket for the Warriors that saw them go from trailing by five to leading by four. Sophomore Bowen Sandquist knocked down a three-pointer with nine minutes to play to give Midland a 62-61 lead, its first since an early 5-4 advantage.
The Warriors maintained a steady six-point lead fort the next six minutes and led 79-73 with just under four minutes to play, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t go away after surrendering their lead. With 1:40 on the clock, a pair of free throws from Carter Kent put Concordia back up 80-79. After an empty possession for the Warriors, a back-cut layup from Justin Wiersema got the lead back to three.
Brevin Sloup came away with a steal on Midland’s next possession and completed a three-point play at the other end to extend the lead back to six and effectively put the game out of reach. Three free throws from Sandquist kept it close, but the Bulldogs converted on all five of their free throw attempts in the final minute to hold on to the 89-83 win.
Over the final 3:44, Concordia outscored Midland 16-4 to close out the game and put an end to a competitive, inconsistent game for both teams.
Free throws were a key difference in the game as Concordia was 21-for-31 from the line compared to Midland’s 10-for-13 mark. The Warriors were whistled for 24 fouls, twice as many as Concordia (12). One plus for Midland was turnover margin as it finished with just four compared to 12 giveaways for the Bulldogs.
Sandquist and Sloup led their respective squads with 22 points apiece in the game. Junior Laurence Merritt and freshman Sam Mailloux added 19 and 15 points, respectively, to the Warriors’ cause.
After a horrendous start, the Warriors put together a gutsy second-half effort to put themselves in a position to win, but the ball just didn’t bounce in their favor. As a result, the Warriors fail to make the GPAC Tournament for a second season in a row.
Despite their record, the growth and resiliency of the team was on full display on Wednesday, and has been ever since the start of 2020. The Warriors proved that they will be a strong, competitive group entering 2020-21.
“We have another good team coming in this weekend, and we just want to end the season, win or lose, by getting better,” Drake said. “Our last five or six games has been some of the best basketball that we’ve played from an effort standpoint.”
Midland closes out its season on Saturday, Feb. 22, with a home game versus the (RV) Mount Marty Lancers at 4:00 p.m. Then-No. 23 Mount Marty beat Midland 96-89 in Yankton on Jan. 11.