About halfway through the introduction of the starting lineups, it became obvious that Anthony Tucker wasn't going to be among them. The #5 seeded Winona State Warriors would be playing the #4 Concordia Golden Bears in St. Paul, and they'd be playing without their leading scorer, along with (or, without) 6-8 starting forward Joel Armstrong . I heard later from a Winona State fan (and later yet, confirmed by reference to an article in the Winona Daily News) that "Tucker was arrested at 1:28 a.m. Monday for disorderly conduct after a confrontation with Winona State security and Winona police...."
"Armstrong," the article said, "was not charged," but apparently he was with Tucker when the incident occurred.
Kellen Taylor, meanwhile, was also out with a concussion sustained in basketball practice the day before.
It didn't look good for the Warriors, who were already fading going into the tournament. Once 12-2, they finished the year 3-5 over the last 8 games to lose even the home court for this first round of playoff basketball.
But if Tucker didn't show up, his teammates did, big time, especially senior guard Ben Fischer. Fischer scored the games' 1st 7 points, 10 in the 1st 10 minutes and 19 in the 1st half on 5-of-7 3-point shooting. From 7-0, the Warriors extended their early lead to 20-9. Concordia got within 2 points but Winona led 41-34 at the half. And while Fischer was Mr. Outside, sophomore post Clayton Vette was Mr. Inside with 11 1st half points. Winona hit 54 percent of its 2s and 54 percent of its 3s, and had a 13-1 edge in points off turnovers.
Concordia responded with its own inside-outside game as post Brent Barz and guard Andrew Kuderer, as each scored 8 points, and the Bears had a 10-2 edge in 2nd chance points.
In the 2nd half, Winona pushed their lead back into double digits at 50-37 and 55-42, but Concordia came back within 61-56 and 66-60. Dan Vandervieren gave Concordia a spark, re-entering the game at 16:50. Now agonizingly slow afoot, and the long-haired former Hopkins star (class of 2006) appears not in game shape, but he is big (6-11) and strong and knows how to use his body, and generally how to play the game. He immediately hit a 2+1, gathered a pair of defensive boards, scored off the offensive glass, then scored again, and again--twice getting the Bears within 8--and grabbed an offensive board before departing at the 8:00 mark. He finished his college career with 10 points and 6 boards in 14 minutes. When they make a movie of his basketball career, they'll have to get Jeff Bridges to play the part of Vandervieren (and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Concordia coach Kelly Boe).
Junior post Brent Barz was solid, too, with 14 points in 20 minutes. But the Bears' motor is the new, twin brother guard combo of Kenny and Peter Olafeso. Peter hit 7-of-16 shots for 20 points, while Kenny snared 8 boards to lead Concordia.
A put-back by Kenny got the Bears within 69-63 at 5:16, whereupon Xavier Humphrey hit a 2 and a pair of 3s for Winona to make it 77-63 at 2:21, and the celebrating was on.
After getting out-rebounded in the 1st half, Winona tightened up that part of their game, as 2nd chance points were 6-6. Winona continued to shoot over 50 percent both on 2s and 3s, while Concordia continued to shoot in the 40s and dropped below 40 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Fischer finished with 28 points and Humphrey 20, Vette with 18 and Jon Walburg 17. Winona rose to the occasion of Tucker's and Armstrong's absence. Doing so twice more over the weekend, starting with #1 seed Mankato State on Saturday, will be an increasingly difficult challenge.
Concordia-St. Paul women 65 Minnesota-Duluth 56
In the 1st game of the doubleheader it was the Concordia women who took the early lead, rarely ever trailed, and pulled away in the closing minutes. Lindsey Miller scored and assisted on UMD's 1st 3 buckets for their only lead of the night at 6-4. Bears' freshmen Rachel Hansen (2) and Jodi Batzel (1) scored the next 3 Concordia buckets to make it 10-6, and the Bears never again trailed.
The most telling detail was the chorus of the UMD bench counting down the shot clock from 12 to 1, with UMD often no closer to a good shot at 1 than at 12. There were at least a half-dozen shot clock violations and at least that many desperation shots as the clock expired.
Still, it was just 56-54 at 2:05, when senior guard Maurika Hickman took over for the Bears. She hit a pair of lay-ups and a free throw to go with the second one, then 4-for-4-more throws, or in other words, all of the Bears last 9 points during which time the Bulldogs could muster only another Miller lay-up.
The bottom line is that Concordia's 4-guard offense was too "big" and too strong and too quick and too athletic for UMD's perimeter players. The 5-6 senior Hickman is the smallest, not just in height, but she is the best at creating her own shot in the half court offense. She is #2 in the nation in 3-point shooting for the season at 47.5 percent, but went 0-for-5 behind the arc in this game. Not to worry, she hit 8-of-11 2s, most with a stop-and-pop off the dribble drive into the lane. She was 6-for-9 in the 2nd half to finish with 22 points and 4 assists.
The 5-7 senior Zoraa Quoie is the defensive stopper, #9 nationally in steals at 3.4 per game. She got just 2 this time but harassed the Bulldogs ball-handlers mercilessly all night long. The shot clock violations were largely Quoie's doing.
Jineen Williams, a 5-9 senior, is the best all-around of the 3 and leads the Bears in scoring at 15.9. She scored just 10 this night on 5-of-8 shooting but contributed 5 boards, 5 assists and 3 steals. Then there's 5-11 freshman Rachel Hansen and 5-9 sophomore Mandy Poke, who played 25 and 23 minutes, respectively, and each hit a couple of buckets.
Against these players, the Bulldogs' perimeters--Miller, Shelly Stemper and Courtney Doucette--made just 8-0f-28 shots, most of them hurried and harassed. On the other hand, 6-2 senior post Kelsey Hewitt and 5-11 freshman wing Katrina Newman were able to operate pretty well inside. making 12-of-26 shots. Hewitt finished with 17 points and 14 boards, Newman with 12 and 11.
The other theme in this game was UMD coach Annette Wiles' relentless coaching. The media were seated adjacent to the UMD bench and, my, did she coach--the officials equally as her own team. At the end of the 1st half, her team had made 7-of-26 shots, turned it over 11 times, got beat 11-6 off turnovers, 12-0 on fast break baskets and 14-6 in the paint. They were horrible.
Down 26-16 with about 5:00 in the half--and having just given up a 3 to Carissa Wolyniec and a breakaway to Poke--Wiles called timeout. "If we were executing our game plan," she told her team, "maybe we wouldn't be in the situation we're in." The Bulldogs scored 6 unanswered points to finish the half. They had been horrible and they trailed 26-22.
In the 2nd half UMD dominated inside with a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass to finish with an 18-2 edge in 2nd chance points. They scored the only 2 fast break baskets of the half. But they continued to get beat, 11-6 in the 1st half, 11-4 in the 2nd, off turnovers. They increased their shooting percentage from 27 percent in the 1st to 41 percent in the 2nd, but their 3-point shooting dropped off from 22 percent to 14 percent.
The Bears started the year 2-5 in the NSIC, then went 14-1 from there. They shot poorly and got hammered off the offensive glass. Still, they'll be hard to beat with the conference play-offs continuing on the Concordia home floor on Saturday and Sunday.