Tigers top Northwestern in GPAC thriller: DWU remains perfect in conference action

Tigers extend winning streak to eight with six-point victory over Northwestern College

Dakota Wesleyan University's Koln Oppold (1) makes a move to the basket as Northwestern's Jay Small defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Wednesday at the Corn Palace.

Dakota Wesleyan University’s Ace Zorr was a good spokesman for Wednesday’s Great Plains Athletic Conference contest.

The Tigers outlasted Northwestern College, 82-76, in a heart-pounding men’s basketball game at the Corn Palace.

“That was such a fun game to play in,” Zorr said. “I mean both teams battled so frickin’ hard down to the end. It was just a blast, honestly.”

Dakota Wesleyan (8-1, 5-0 GPAC) remained the lone undefeated team in conference play and extended its winning streak to eight games. The Tigers’ eighth-straight victory came against the highest-scoring team in the GPAC and a team receiving votes in the national preseason poll.

“It was a high-level game,” DWU coach Matt Wilber said. “You look at the shooting percentages and we needed to shoot the way we shot.”


The Tigers shot 31 of 60 from the field (51.7%), while the Red Raiders were right behind at 28 of 55 (50.9%). The contest featured outstanding offensive performances, with seven total players in double figures. Northwestern’s largest lead was seven points, while DWU’s largest advantage was the final margin and the contest featured nine lead changes.

DWU’s Koln Oppold and Mason Larson netted 20 points apiece, while Oppold added a team-high eight boards. Nick Harden posted 13 points and dished out a season-high 11 assists. Zorr logged a career-high 16 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in 22 minutes off the bench.

Northwestern’s Jay Small torched the Tigers for 28 points on 11 of 23 shooting from the field. Red Raider freshman Alex Van Kalsbeek put together a stellar game with 20 points on 7 of 7 from the field and 6 of 7 at the foul line.

DWU, which finished with a season-low seven turnovers, executed down the stretch to pull out the victory. Oppold’s 3-pointer broke a 68-68 tie, while Larson’s mid-range jumper pushed it to 73-68 with 4:33 left.

“They tried to go into a little bit of a zone and we scored on that,” Larson said. “They didn’t like the looks they were giving us and went back to man. We knew we just had to keep running at them and stay confident and if you have a shot, let it fly.”

The Tigers never trailed again after the 10th and final tie. Northwestern’s Keegan Van Egdom made it 75-74 after a pair of free throws with 1:46 left. After Larson converted an offensive putback for a 77-74 advantage, Northwestern’s Isaac Heyer missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Larson grabbed back-to-back defensive rebounds and hit 3 of 4 free throws for an 80-74 advantage.

After Small made it 80-76, Harden found Zorr breaking to the basket for the final points and DWU later ran out the clock.

“I thought our team took a really good step offensively with ‘Where do we need to go with the ball,’ ” Wilber said. “I called a couple of sets, but a lot of it was our guys playing and our motion and in our jet with getting the ball the way they needed to.”


The Red Raiders (7-3, 4-3 GPAC) blistered the nets in the first half, hitting 10 of its first 12 shots and Small nailed his first six attempts from the field. He tossed in 21 points in the first half on 8 of 12 shooting from the field.

“He started feeling himself and when you get a heater like that -- a guy that can shoot -- you let him hit a couple of shots and it’s going to be hard to guard him the whole game,” Larson said.

But when Small cooled off, Van Kalsbeek, who was coming off a career-high 35 points, heated up and was a thorn in DWU’s side. Zorr drew the assignment of guarding the 6-foot-6 freshman when he came off the bench.

“He’s a monster. He’s a pillar,” Zorr said. “He’s so skilled with his movements and his feet. For a freshman, his movement is just insane. He’s a very good player. I give him props.”

Small stretched Northwestern’s lead to 22-15 with 12:18 remaining in the first half, but the Tigers surged back ahead and took a 33-31 advantage on an Oppold 3-pointer. Oppold later extended it to 39-35 with 2:38 left, however, DWU went scoreless from there and Small’s two free throws evened it at 39-39 at the break.

Zorr put together one of the best sequences in the second half. He stuffed Craig Sterk’s dunk attempt and completed a 3-point play for a 61-59 with under 10 minutes left on the ensuing fastbreak. He then drew Van Kalsbeek’s third foul on a charge.

“I knew we needed a run and things just opened up where we had a 1-on-1 jumping match at the end and I was lucky to come up on top,” Zorr said. “Then it was just pure adrenaline from there.”

In the final eight minutes, there were two ties and four lead changes. But DWU never relinquished the lead after Oppold’s third 3-pointer made it 71-68.


“I am just really impressed with how tough we are,” Wilber said. “We are very tough and we are very together.”

The Tigers will play at rival Mount Marty University on Saturday.

Dakota Wesleyan 82, Northwestern College 76

Northwestern College (7-3, 4-3 GPAC): Trent Hilbrands 2-6 1-2 6, Isaac Heyer 3-9 0-0 8, Jay Small 11-23 3-5 28, Alex Van Kalsbeek 7-7 6-7 20, Keegan Van Egdom 4-5 2-2 12, Craig Sterk 1-4 0-0 2, Grant DeMelenaere 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-55 12-16 76.

Dakota Wesleyan (8-1, 5-0 GPAC): Koln Oppold 7-12 3-4 20, Nick Harden 5-18 2-3 13, Jeffrey Schuch 2-4 1-2 5, Mason Larson 7-10 4-6 20, Sawyer Schultz 3-7 0-0 8, Ace Zorr 7-9 1-1 16, Drew Cole 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-60 11-16 82.

Halftime: Tied 39-39. 3-point field goals: NC 8-22 (Hilbrands 1-4, Heyer 2-5, Small 3-9, Van Egdom 2-3, Sterk 0-1); DWU 9-18 (Oppold 3-4, Harden 1-3, Schuch 1-3, Larson 2-3, Schultz 2-5, Zorr 1-2). Rebounds: NC 27 (Small 8); DWU 29 (Larson 8). Assists: NC 11 (Hilbrands 4); DWU 16 (Harden 11). Steals: NC 4; DWU 6 (Schuch 2). Blocked shots: NC 1 (Sterk 1); DWU 4 (Zorr 3). Turnovers: NC 10; DWU 7. Total fouls: NC 10; DWU 16. Officials: Christopher Ladwig, Kirby Wells, Steve Schepel. A: 160.

What To Read Next
Get Local