SIOUX CITY – Briar Cliff turned up the defensive intensity during Saturday’s Great Plains Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament semifinal contest.
The Chargers, leading by seven at halftime, used a quick 12-2 spurt, thanks to their defense, early in the second half to take control of the third meeting of the season against cross town rival Morningside.
Briar Cliff won all three meetings, including Saturday’s 87-72 triumph that secured its second straight appearance in the GPAC tournament title game.
But unlike the two regular season meetings that were both decided by less than 15 points, this third meeting turned on the heels of the Chargers ability to slow Morningside’s offense in the second half.
“We knew it would be a tough game one because Morningside is a really good team and two because they were playing for their tourney lives,” said Briar Cliff coach Nic Nelson. “We knew that we already have our bid to nationals locked up, but our guys are just competitors and our guys really defended at a high level today.
“To me, that was the difference for us in the game compared to the previous two games with Morningside which were closer. Today we just played outstanding defense across the board.”
NAIA 12th-ranked Briar Cliff, now 26-6 after winning for the 12th straight game, will host 19th-ranked Northwestern (25-6) in the tournament title game on Tuesday at the Newman Flanagan Center.
The Chargers, GPAC regular season champions, are looking to capture the tourney title for the second straight season.
Briar Cliff, the best three-point shooting team in the NAIA, hit 16 of 38 in the semifinal, as Erich Erdman (14 points) and Jackson Lamb (12 points) hit four apiece.
Jay Wolfe led a quartet of double figure scorers for Briar Cliff with 19 points while Bryan Forbes contributed 17 points and eight rebounds and point guard Shane Graves chipped in 15 points and eight assists.
“Our guys, were pretty explosive offensively, we shoot a lot of threes, if we make a couple in a row (we can get hot),” said Nelson. “But, again, I thought the key today we were able to stop them on the other end defensively and they are such a good offensive team, that’s really a tough task.”
The Chargers also limited Morningside, who was coming off shooting 65 percent in the quarterfinal win at Midland, to 46 percent for the contest.
Tyler Borchers came off the bench to lead the Mustangs with 17 points while Ryan Tegtmeier had 14 and Bryce Koch 12. Morningside, just 11-18 a year ago, finished 21-10 this season and now waits to see if it possibly snags an at-large berth into the NAIA National Tournament.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be like when we were at Midland where we shot 65 percent for the game,” said Morningside coach Jim Sykes. “That was on the high end of the spectrum, and we didn’t want to be on the low end of the spectrum.
“When we would make a poor decision, we would not check out and they would happen to miss a shot, they would get the offensive rebound and score or if we took a tough shot , they would turn around and score on that and that was the difference in the game.”
Graves, one of five seniors on the roster, including three starters, will get one final home game in his career where the Chargers have won 12 straight since opening the GPAC season 0-2 at home. Briar Cliff went 17-1 at home last season giving them a two-year mark of 29-3 at the Newman Flanagan Center.
“The Flanagan, you don’t get what you get at the Flanagan anywhere else in the conference in my eyes,” said Graves. “Everytime we play here it’s an advantage for us.
“So we were pretty upset with those first two losses because our crowd was giving up some hype and we weren’t giving it back. Thank god we turned it around.”
Graves passed Jeff Donaldson as the school’s career assist leader in the contest with the first of his eight assists in the contest.