The Concordia Eagles had a response at every turn, and as a result, pulled the GSAC Tournament First Round victory over Vanguard, 97-91, on Thursday night, February 28, inside CU Arena.
Current NAIA Player of the Week Peter Smith led Concordia with 28 points and seven assists, recording his fourth 25+ point game this season. All-GSAC honoree Dakota Downs scored 18 points and grabbed eight boards on nine-of-12 shooting. Fellow All-GSAC selection Tim Harris, troubled by fouls all night, scored 12 points on five-of-seven shooting. Brandon Hucks was the catalyst off the bench with 12 points and 10 boards, in what head coach Ken Ammann called his best game off the bench. Alex Rudd chipped in 11 points on four-of-five shooting, continuing his solid play as of late. Concordia shot a scorching 62% from the field, while Vanguard shot 51%, as both teams were hot offensively. The point difference came as Concordia made 13 more foul shots.
The first six minutes featured six lead changes with neither team taking more than a two-point lead. Smith converted a layup at 12:29 to put Concordia up three and Tyler Hickert scored on the next possession to give Concordia the 20-15 lead. Smith came back and drilled a three at the ten-minute mark to put Concordia up 25-19. Two minutes later Vanguard came back to tie the game at 28. Vanguard took the lead three times over the next five minutes, but Concordia tied it every time, and took the lead, 39-37 on a jumper from Smith. Smith made two free throws and Downs scored a layup to put Concordia up 45-39 and they took the 48-41 advantage into the break.
Concordia scored four straight out of the half, but Vanguard responded on a 12-2 run to cut it to one. Rudd rained a three and Jywrell Wilson made to freebies to put Concordia up 63-57 with 13 minutes left. After Vanguard scored, Hucks drilled a three from the top of the key to put Concordia back up seven. Concordia held strong as Vanguard cut the lead to one twice, and took the eight point lead, 79-71, on the play of the year at 8:42. Nolan Abernathy forced a turnover near midcourt, grabbed the ball with his back turned to the Concordia hoop, fired a behind the back pass right on the money to a streaking Harris who flushed it one-handed at the other end. One minute later Downs put in a baby hook and Concordia led 83-73. Vanguard cut it to three, 85-82, with 3:35 left, but a twisting layup from Hucks put Concordia back up 90-84 with 1:27 remaining. Concordia traded Vanguard points for free throws down the stretch, prevailing 97-91.
Vanguard outscored Concordia 56-42 in the paint, but the Eagles outscored the Lions 24-5 off the bench. Concordia improved to 20-10, while Vanguard fell to 17-13 as their season most likely comes to an end. Concordia moves on to the GSAC Tournament Semifinals for the seventh straight year. They will travel to Westmont on Saturday night, March 2, at 7:30 pm. Watch the free live stream at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/westmont.portal#.