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Dakota Wesleyan hosts Morningside in top-20 matchup: Tigers return home after three-game road swing

No. 16 DWU hosts No. 9 Morningside College at 8 p.m. today

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Teegan Evers (2) goes to the basket against Dakota State University on Dec. 2 at the Corn Palace.

Dakota Wesleyan University’s daunting schedule to end the regular season starts today.

The No. 16 DWU men’s basketball team will play four of its last five games at the Corn Palace, including today’s 8 p.m. showdown against No. 9 Morningside College. DWU recently announced new attendance protocols at the Corn Palace, which will allow roughly 800 fans or 25% capacity of the 3,200-seat venue.

“I am really excited to play, especially with more fans back at the Corn Palace,” DWU junior forward Koln Oppold said. “We just have so much energy there and it’s just huge for us playing back at the Corn Palace.”

After playing their last three games on the road, the Tigers will also host Dordt College, Midland University and Jamestown University to end the regular season. Today’s top-20 matchup holds major conference implications. The Tigers (16-4, 12-3 GPAC) are No. 2 in the league standings, while the Mustangs (18-3, 14-3 GPAC) hold the top spot.

“We are going to stay focused on what we’ve got ahead of us and that’s Morningside and it’s obviously a really challenging game,” DWU coach Matt Wilber said. “That’s why our guys came here to play. They came here to play in these.”

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Jamestown (12-4), Northwestern (12-5), Concordia (11-5) and Dordt (10-7) are all nipping at their heels in the GPAC race. The Tigers and Mustangs are also the top-two defensive teams in the GPAC. DWU gives up a league-low 69.5 points, while Morningside (70.3) is right behind it.

“They really like to get it on the block kind of like we do,” Oppold said. “It’s going to be a battle with the bigs again. We don’t expect the same start we had last time. We know we are going to be in a grind-it-out game and we are going to have to be disciplined defensively.”

Dakota Wesleyan defeated Morningside College, 75-60, in the first meeting on Dec. 16 in Sioux City, Iowa. The Tigers jumped out to a 43-22 halftime led thanks to 53% shooting from the field.

They limited the Mustangs to 32.3% shooting from the floor and held them off in the second half for the win.

Wilber doesn’t anticipate the same kind of start for the Tigers, while pointing out both teams look different than the pre-Christmas contest.

“Both teams look like a different on offense and defense and personnel,” Wilber said. “So it’s a brand new ball game.”

The Tigers will likely be without junior forward Mason Larson, who sustained a foot injury against Hastings College on Jan. 30. Wilber didn’t put a timetable on Larson’s return, but anticipates he will be out for an extended period.

Larson is averaging 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 versatile defender also has a GPAC-high 33 blocked shots, while his absence in the lineup will hurt DWU’s rebounding numbers against the Mustangs.

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Morningside College’s Trey Brown is second in the conference in rebounds per game (11) and is the league’s best offensive rebounder. The 6-foot-6 Brown scores a team-high 17.3 points per game.

“Trey Brown is a tremendous rebounder,” Wilber said. “He’s capable of getting 20 rebounds in a game and he’s come close a few times this year. … He’s a load and we physically don’t have a guy that matches up with him. So it’s going to have to be a team effort.”

Evers continues upward trend

When Larson exited the Hastings College game with his foot injury, freshman forward Teegan Evers took advantage of extended playing time.

The Huron product logged a career-high 28 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the field in 25 minutes. He also hit 4 of 7 3-point attempts and collected four rebounds.

“Hastings has been giving up some points and Teegan took advantage of it and our guys were pretty good to keep giving him the ball,” Wilber said.

The 28-point performance is the most by a DWU freshman since Ty Hoglund in the 2016-17 season. It’s the second most by a DWU player this season, behind Larson’s 29-point game against Mount Marty.

Wilber added the 6-foot-5 Evers has been trending in the right direction and he stayed ready despite not logging heavy minutes early in the season. He’s played in the past six games and added a 12-point performance against Northwestern College on Jan. 13.

Evers said he didn’t get discouraged early in the season, but instead soaked up knowledge from Larson and other teammates.

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“(Larson) taught me a lot and all the guys did,” Evers said. “They taught me how to play.”

Evers will now continue to fill in for Larson for the foreseeable future.

“I am looking forward to it a lot,” Evers said. “I am ready to get the job done.”

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