For the fourth straight year, the (RV) Concordia Eagles are headed back to the GSAC Tournament Championship game. This year's berth was clinched on Saturday night, March 2, as Concordia went into Santa Barbara and beat the tournament's No. 1 seed Westmont, 80-77. This year's Eagles squad has certainly had their trials, but the GSAC Tournament Championship will still come through the reigning NAIA National Champion Eagles.
"I couldn't be more proud of how hard we have been competing the last two weeks," Concordia head coach Ken Ammann said. "The poise we showed tonight was as good as I've seen. We took their best shot on their floor and found a way to win."
On Saturday Tim Harris led Concordia with 17 points, going seven-of-seven from the line, and converting the play of the game later. He rebounded a Concordia missed free throw late and converted the and-one, giving Concordia the four-point edge. Peter Smith scored 16 and was fantastic getting to the rim all night, going six-of-11 from the field. DeLaun Frazier was already in National Tournament form, hitting four-of-five from three for 14 points off the bench. Brandon Hucks was money again off the bench, scoring 13 points, grabbing five boards, and proving the senior wants the KC trip. Concordia leader Dakota Downs had eight points and five boards, but set the tone for the Eagles in the highly physical and competitive matchup. There were 48 total fouls as the officials tried to keep the play in check. The difference for Concordia came from behind the arc, as they hit 10 threes at a scorching 56%. Preston Branson led Westmont with 24 points.
The teams traded leads through the first five minutes, feeling each other, and setting the tone of a close game. Concordia fell down four, 18-14, at the 11:45 mark. Concordia scored five straight on a layup from Hucks and three from Smith to regain the lead. Westmont retook the lead, but Concordia tied the game at 24 and took the edge, 27-26, on a three from Hucks. Westmont tied it again at 29 and took a 35-31 lead. Jumpers from Downs and Frazier tied it at 35. Westmont made their biggest run of the half with seven straight in response. Thanks to a three from Frazier, Concordia was able to score six of the last eight points and trail 44-41 at the half.
Westmont led 48-43 four minutes in, but a three from Alex Rudd one minute later tied the game at 48. The teams traded leads until a three from Frazier put Concordia up 53-50 at the 13:09 mark. Westmont scored five straight in response to retake the lead. Concordia tied it at 56 and went up three on a triple from Rudd. They doubled that lead, 64-58, on a three from Harris with 8:56 left. Westmont stopped the bleeding and pulled within one, 68-67, with 5:24 left. Westmont scored on the next possession to retake the lead. The teams went back and forth, each matching each other down the stretch with clutch baskets. Downs was fouled following an offensive rebound by Hucks with 57 seconds left. He made the first, but missed the second. Harris elevated over everyone and grabbed the board. He immediately sprung back up and finished the jumper with contact. He made the free throw to put Concordia up 77-73 with 51 seconds left and give Concordia the much needed breathing room.
"That was the game right there and I am so proud of the way Peter Smith is finishing his career," Amman said.
Branson made a layup for Westmont, and Smith made one-of-two free throws. Westmont converted another layup and Smith made two clutch free throws with the season on the line. Westmont got two contested three looks on the final possession, with the final shot wedging between the backboard and rim.
"We found a way to make a lot of winning plays tonight and it took everything we had to get it done," Ammann said. "We are very happy to be playing in the game on our home floor and it's nice to have the opportunity to win the tournament championship."
Concordia will play host to the men's and women's GSAC Tournament Championship games on Tuesday night, March 5 at 5 pm and 8 pm respectively. Both games will be televised live by Fox Sports, with the men's game being broadcast on Prime Ticket. The Eagles will wear the visiting jerseys against the visiting Arizona Christian Firestorm (winners 93-78 over Hope International) at 8 pm. Concordia will be chasing their sixth GSAC Tournament Championship and first since 2010-2011. The winner will earn the coveted automatic berth to the NAIA National Championship in Kansas City, MO. Follow live stats at http://www.cuieagles.com/live/basketball/xlive.htm and check your local listings for Prime Ticket (The Lakers Channel).