In a battle of No.1 seeds and GPAC rivals, Northwestern lost to Concordia 82-79 in the first national semifinal game played tonight at the NAIA Division II National Championship in the Tyson Events Center.
The Red Raiders season ends with a 29-5 record and fall to Concordia in the semi’s for the second straight year. The Bulldogs advance to their second consecutive championship game where they will play second-ranked Southeastern (Fla.), who defeated Dakota Wesleyan 78-75 in double overtime in the second semifinal.
Kassidy De Jong led the Red Raiders with 23 points in her final game, making 4-of-7 three-pointers. She also pulled down six rebounds and had five assists. Sammy Blum netted 17, 12 coming from the three-point line, and both Haley Birks and Taylor VanderVelde scored 10.
Trailing 41-27 at the half and by as many as 18 (47-29) in the third quarter, Northwestern mounted a furious comeback and outscored the Bulldogs 22-6 over the final seven-plus minutes to make it a two-point game (53-51) at the end of the third. Six different Red Raiders scored during the run, led by De Jong with 11.
A three-point play by Blum gave Northwestern its first lead of the game, 54-53, on the opening possession of the fourth quarter. Over the next five minutes, the teams traded baskets as the lead switched hands 12 times and largest advantage by either squad was three. After a Blum three-pointer that put Northwestern up 72-70 with 4:17 left, Concordia scored the next six points on baskets by Taylor Cockerill and Grace Barry, along with free throws by Quinn Wragge, giving the Bulldogs the lead for good.
VanderVelde came back with a jumper to make it a two-point game with 1:39 left but Concordia proceeded to score next five points to go up 81-74. A three-pointer by VanderVelde and lay-up by Birks cut the lead back to two (81-79) with 11 seconds left; Northwestern would not get any closer.
Northwestern shot 48% for the game, 53% (10/19) from the three-point arc and outrebounded Concordia 45-28.
Concordia’s advantage came in free throws (16/23 compared to 7/9 by NW) and turnovers, forcing the Red Raiders into 23 compared to just seven by the Bulldogs.
Philomena Lammers, the GPAC Player of the Year, led all players with 28 points, 13 rebounds and five steals. Barry scored 19 and both Wragge (13) and Cockerill (10) were in double figures.
The game was controlled by Concordia early as they opened up a 7-2 lead, forcing several Red Raider turnovers. The Bulldogs continued their run, leading 19-5 at the six minute mark and 26-13 by the end of the first quarter. Northwestern committed 10 turnovers and shot just 31% in the first period.
Concordia kept rolling, scoring the first seven points of the second quarter, to extend its lead to 20 (33-13) at the seven-minute mark. Northwestern made a charge back, getting to within 10 with a 10-0 run after baskets by Blum, De Jong, Gustafson and Birks. Concordia’s lead was 14, 41-27, at halftime.
This is the final game for the five Red Raider seniors who are part of the program: managers Heather Schouten and Haley Sitzmann; Haley Birks, Darbi Gustafson and Kassidy De Jong.
De Jong closes her career in sixth place in career points (2,254), fifth in rebounds (955), 24th in assists (230), 21st in steals (159)
Birks closes her career 19th in scoring (1,342), 25th in rebounds (557), 32nd in assists (165) and fifth in blocks (132)
Gustafson finishes her career 12th in scoring (1,514), seventh in rebounding (866), 31st in assists (167) and seventh in blocks (106)