Season to come down to Saturday for DWU, Red Raiders beat Tiger men 86-83
Dakota Wesleyan University failed to punch its ticket to the conference postseason and watched No. 5 Northwestern earn an automatic bid to the national tournament in the process.
The Red Raiders defeated DWU 86-83 in a Great Plains Athletic Conference men's basketball game Wednesday night at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.
The win gave Northwestern the GPAC regular-season championship and a secure spot in the NAIA national tournament. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be fighting to keep their season alive Saturday, when they host Briar Cliff in the regular-season finale. A DWU win will give the team the No. 8 seed for the GPAC postseason tournament. A loss will bump the Tigers into the ninth spot in the conference, and they will fail to make the postseason.
"It sounds easy, but it's going to be a tough task," said Tigers guard Aireus Stephenson, who had 17 points against Northwestern. "We have to come in here, take care of business and win on our home court."
The Tigers, who have lost four of their last five games, hold an 8-11 conference record are are 13-16 overall.
Nebraska Wesleyan finished its regular season Wednesday night with a win over Doane. That victory gave NWU an 8-12 GPAC record.
If DWU loses Saturday, it will finish tied with Nebraska Wesleyan for the eighth spot, but NWU would move on to the postseason due to tie-breaking criteria. DWU and NWU split their regular-season series, but NWU's early-December 71-69 overtime win over Dordt -- a team that swept the Tigers this year -- would allow the Prairie Wolves into the eighth seed.
That makes the Tigers' 8:30 p.m. Saturday game at the Corn Palace the biggest one of their season.
"If it can add some extra inspiration to our guys, so be it," DWU coach Shane Murphy said. "I'm not going to hide anything from them. They know. They know what the deal is. You've got to win or go home."
Carde Pennington had 19 points to lead DWU against the Red Raiders, who are 22-5 overall and 16-3 in league play. Jalen Voss had 10 points and Kris Menning and Luke Bamberg each had nine points and six rebounds.
DWU trailed 11-2 after the first five minutes but went on a 20-2 run for a nine-point lead. Strong outside shooting and Northwestern turnovers had the Tigers leading 37-32 at halftime.
Murphy said his team came out of the second half slowly. After Northwestern tied the game at 40 with 18 minutes to go, DWU never led again.
The Red Raiders were 20-of-24 from the foul line in the second half and hit 57 percent of their field goals in the second 20 minutes. Ben Miller scored 15 points after the break and finished with a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds. Northwestern's Levi Ettleman added 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
Wesleyan -- which was 14-of-16 from the free-throw line in the game -- trailed by four with about three minutes to go, but Northwestern stayed on top with a strong inside game. Pennington had two 3-pointers with less than a minute to play that kept things close, but the clock ran out before the Tigers could go ahead.
Now, it all comes down to Saturday against Briar Cliff.
"We don't win, we don't go to the playoffs," Stephenson said. "We have a lot to lose, so we have to go out there and play our best."
No. 5 NORTHWESTERN 86,
DAKOTA WESLEYAN 83
DWU (13-16, 8-11 GPAC)
Carde Pennington 5-12 5-5 19, Kris Menning 2-6 4-4 9, Luke Bamberg 3-6 2-2 9, Aireus Stephenson 8-17 0-0 17, Jalen Voss 4-9 2-3 10, Trae Bergh 0-0 0-0 0, Bo LaCroix 4-8 0-0 8, Danny Maman 1-5 0-0 3, Stephen Lee 1-1 0-0 2, Jade Miller 2-4 1-2 6. Totals: 30-68 14-16 83.
NW (22-5, 16-3 GPAC)
Josh VanderPlaats 3-4 3-3 9, Ben Miller 6-12 13-15 25, Levi Ettleman 5-9 0-0 12, Zack Leeper 4-10 3-5 11, Stu Goslinga 0-4 0-0 0, Rob Gill 2-2 2-2 6, Jacey Hoegh 0-0 0-0 0, Joey Habtemariam 1-3 2-2 4, Bryce Moss 0-0 2-2 2, Daniel Van Kalsbeek 7-13 3-5 17. Totals: 28-57 28-34 86.
Halftime: DWU 37-32. 3-point goals: DWU 9-19 (Pennington 4, Menning, Bamberg, Stephenson, Maman, Miller), NW 2-8 (Ettleman 2). Rebounds: DWU 37 (Menning 6, Bamberg 6, Voss 6, Miller 6), NW 35 (Miller 12). Assists: DWU 19 (Stephenson 5), NW 12 (Miller 5). Turnovers: DWU 10, NW 11. Total fouls: DWU 21, NW 16. Fouled out: Bamberg, DWU; Van Kalsbeek, NW.