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Slow start plagues Dakota Wesleyan men against Concordia on Senior Night

After going down 13-2 in the first five minutes of play, DWU never recovered and never led in its final home game of the season.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Mason Larson (15) dribbles to the basket as Concordia University's Carter Kent (5) defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Saturday, February 19, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Slow starts and inconsistent play have been the theme this season for the Dakota Wesleyan men’s basketball team, and on senior night at the Corn Palace, history repeated itself.

The Tigers were down 10-2 just three minutes from tip-off and saw themselves in a 15-point deficit with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Another slow start derailed DWU and led to a 86-70 loss to Concordia on Saturday evening.

Dakota Wesleyan dropped three of its final four games at the Corn Palace this season and enter the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament as the No. 8 seed.

“We’ve just had so many times this year where we don’t know what we’re going to get, it’s just been inconsistent,” senior Mason Larson said. “We got down bad and it was hard for us to find a little bit of flow and once we found it, it was too late.”

In route to losing back-to-back games to end the regular season, DWU took four and a half minutes to score its first field goal of the game. Larson canned two 3-pointers to start the scoring but the Tigers were already climbing an uphill battle.

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Senior Jeffrey Schuch made another three to start Dakota Wesleyan off 3-for-4 from behind the arc but Concordia had an answer for everything DWU threw their way. The Bulldogs went on a 12-2 run to take a 27-13 lead, forcing the Tigers to take their third timeout of the first half just 10 minutes into the game. In the first 10 minutes, Concordia shot 58 percent from the field while DWU shot 38 percent. Concordia rode their hot shooting from the field to a 12-point halftime lead.

In the second half, Concordia continued its hot shooting going 6-for-8 from behind the arc and putting up 42 points. The Bulldogs reached their largest lead of 22 points to cruise to a 16-point victory.

Noah Schutte led the Bulldogs with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double. AJ Watson had 17 points and Justin Wiersema had 15 points. Gage Smith had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Carter Kent added 12 points to put everyone in Concordia’s starting lineup with double digit points.

Larson led the Tigers in points with 19 as he made five of his eight 3-point attempts. He also had six rebounds and four blocks while senior Koln Oppold had 15 points, a team-high nine rebounds and four assists. Sawyer Schultz had 11 points and senior Jeffrey Schuch had 10 points and seven assists.

Five seniors for DWU, Oppold, Larson, Schuch, Gary White III and Ace Zorr, were recognized before the game for their careers as Tigers. Dakota Wesleyan head coach Matt Wilber said despite the season not going as planned, he’s proud of the way his seniors didn’t quit on the program.

“I really appreciate the effort our seniors put towards this season,” Wilber said. “They’ve shown up everyday, they come a long way and it’s been a tough year for us in regards to wins and losses but they never made excuses. … Those guys have been part of a lot of really good wins here and really good performances from a basketball standpoint.”

Wilber added, “On a bigger side of it, academically and what kind of guys they have been for us in our program, they’ve been tremendous young men. I hate losing, I’m really competitive with the game but I’m really proud and thankful to have those guys.”

The Tigers will take the No. 8 seed into the GPAC tournament, which begins Wednesday, Feb. 23 and travel to Sioux City, Iowa to face top-seeded Briar Cliff. They’ve split meetings with Briar Cliff this season and most recently beat the Chargers 75-68 on Jan. 29 in Sioux City, Iowa.

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Larson said if they want to give themselves a chance, they have to execute at the beginning of the game.

“We have to watch how we prepare and hope that we can focus up enough to at least give ourselves a chance so we’re not so down and playing from behind the whole time,” Larson said.

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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