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Rivals Dakota Wesleyan, Mount Marty collide in GPAC men's semifinals

With season on the line, Tigers and Lancers to tussle for second straight year in tournament semifinals

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Mason Larson (15) shoots over the top of a Concordia University defender during a game in the first round of the Great Plains Athletic Conference on Feb. 23 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It will feel like déjà vu at 3 p.m. today at the Corn Palace.

For the second straight season, Dakota Wesleyan University will host rival Mount Marty University in the Great Plains Athletic Conference men’s basketball semifinals.

The Tigers (19-7) claimed last year’s meeting by an 86-62 decision, while they won both meetings this season. But don’t expect the same Lancers in this one, said DWU coach Matt Wilber.

The Lancers (10-16) are red hot and fresh off a 76-73 upset win over No. 1 seed Morningside College on Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa. Due to a bye and COVID-related rescheduling, Mount Marty went 18 full days between its past two games.

MORE: Complete coverage of the Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball season

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It showed in the upset win over the nationally-ranked Mustangs, who fell behind 45-30 at halftime.

“They are a lot better than when we saw them the last time,” Wilber said. “They didn’t play for like a couple of weeks and they looked a lot better against Morningside. They were ready to go.”

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Chad Moran powered the upset with 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field and he grabbed eight rebounds. Jailen Billings added 19 points, while Allen Wilson scored 14 points.

Mount Marty’s Tyrell Harper, who joined the Lancers midway through the season, added seven points and 12 rebounds. Harper, a 6-foot-6 athletic forward, didn’t play in the first contest against the Tigers. He had 13 points and nine rebounds in the Jan. 17 meeting, a 69-58 DWU victory.

“He’s a lot different player right now and he’s really good,” Wilber said. “He’s a tough matchup and they’ve got guys that can really shoot it around him. They’ve got their bigs that can go off the drive and attack the rim. That’s a tough matchup for bigs.”

READ: DWU's Nick Harden has rode the college basketball rollercoaster to success

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It will be another challenge for the defensive-minded Tigers. In the quarterfinals, Dakota Wesleyan limited Concordia to 24 points below its season average and they won the rebounding battle, 37-28. The Tigers, who are second in the GPAC in scoring defense, held the Bulldogs to a season-low 58 points.

“We are going to have to get some stops and we are going to have to play some really good team defense,” Wilber said about today’s contest.

Nick Harden finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists on Wednesday. Koln Oppold added 14 points and eight rebounds. Jeffrey Schuch posted his first double-double with 11 points and 12 boards. Mason Larson, in his second game back from a foot injury, added seven points, four rebounds and two steals.

Today’s winner will play Northwestern College or Jamestown University in the GPAC title game. A win today would give DWU at least 20 wins for the sixth consecutive season. It would also pad their résumé as DWU hangs onto its postseason lives.

This season, NAIA reduced the field size of both the men’s and women’s basketball championships from 64 to 48 teams due to COVID-related issues. On the men’s side, there will be 36 automatic bids and 12 at-large selections. In the latest RPI ratings, the Tigers were ranked No. 34.

“The reality of it is, whichever team losses this game, their season is over,” Wilber said. “I can tell you that in all certainty. There isn’t an at-large chance for us right now.”

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