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DWU's hot shooting leads Tiger men to upset of GPAC top-seed Briar Cliff

Dakota Wesleyan upsets Briar Cliff behind 11 3-pointers

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball team picked a good night to catch fire from 3-point territory Wednesday.

The Tigers hit 11 3-pointers and shot 57% from the field overall to knock off top-seeded Briar Cliff in an 85-77 win in the Great Plains Athletic Conference quarterfinals.

DWU (13-15) will now take on fifth-seeded Jamestown on Saturday, Feb. 26, after the Jimmies earned a win at fourth-seeded Dordt on Wednesday.

The Tigers defeated Briar Cliff less than a month ago on Jan. 29, in Sioux City. It was DWU's ninth game of the season with at least 10 3-pointers.

"We shot it really well and got off to a big lead and then we just lead wire-to-wire," DWU head coach Matt Wilber said. "We got enough stops in the second half as they shot 2-for-14 from three and that was probably the difference."

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DWU made a statement early in the game, getting off to a 11-0 run in the first three minutes of play. Senior Koln Oppold, who said he needed to get going early in this contest, scored six of those first 11 points. After Jeffrey Schuch made a contested layup and Mason Larson made a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the Tigers had a comfortable lead early. Briar Cliff started the game 0-2 from the field, with three turnovers before making three straight 3-pointers to shrink the lead to six at 15-9.

Larson and Nick Wittler canned two 3-pointers to give Dakota Wesleyan a 23-9 lead just eight minutes into the game. DWU started the game 4-for-6 from behind the arc and 13-of-19 from the field to reach its largest first half lead of 16 points. Briar Cliff would respond with a 8-0 run to cut the lead to eight and force the Tigers to take their first timeout.

Briar Cliff’s Kyle Boerhave had back-to-back three-point plays to hand Schuch his second foul and Larson his third foul of the first half. Despite the early foul trouble, DWU’s back court managed to keep the Chargers at arm’s reach behind Wittler scoring four of 14 first half points to help DWU reach a nine-point lead at halftime. Sawyer Schultz helped along the way, scoring 12 of his season-high 25 points in the first half.

At the start of the second half, Briar Cliff’s Connor Groves scored four straight points to cut the lead to five, but the back court for the Tigers stayed hot from behind the arc. In the first 10 minutes, Wittler scored eight points, including two 3-pointers, while Schultz nailed a deep 3-pointer, making it his third made three of the game.

As the second half waned, DWU had an answer for everything Briar Cliff threw their way. After the Chargers cut the lead to five at 56-51, Dakota Wesleyan went on a 20-8 run to reach its largest lead of 17. Throughout that stretch, Wittler made his third and fourth 3-pointers of the evening while Schultz scored 12 points, combining the two guards to score 18 of the team’s 20 points.

"I knew if we were going to win that Schultz and Wittler were going to have to have a big game," Wilber said. "I was looking where shots and offense was going to come from because we knew we were going to take a lot of attention inside. They both were really good, they were making shots and playing really well through the flow of the offense."

The Tigers committed four turnovers in the final five minutes but their offense proved to be too much to overcome for Briar Cliff. The entire starting five for DWU finished with double-figures in points.

Schultz ended the game with 25 points and six rebounds while his running mate in the back court Wittler finished with 22 points. Schuch recorded a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive end. Oppold finished with 10 points and a game-high six assists while Larson ended with 10 points and six rebounds.

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For the Chargers, Jaden Kleinhesselink ended with a team-high 16 points and Quinn Vesey finished with 15 points. Groves scored 13 points while Boerhave and Quinten Vasa finished with nine points each.

Wednesday's Tiger win marks the third consecutive season that the top seed in the GPAC men's tournament has lost in the opening round, with Morningside falling to Hastings and Mount Marty in the last two seasons.

Briar Cliff, which was the regular season champion, will still claim one of the conference's two automatic bids to the NAIA tournament.

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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