SEARCY, Ark. -- For the first time in school history, Concordia-St. Paul (28-8) is headed to the Elite Eight. The seventh-seed Golden Bears held on for a thrilling 70-67 win against top-seeded Emporia State (31-4) in the NCAA Central Region championship.
Concordia built a big second-half lead that got as large as 18, but the Hornets wouldn't go away. They cut the lead all the way to two and had a look at a 3 to tie it at the buzzer but it was off the mark, sending the Concordia bench into celebration mode.
"I thought that 3 was going in and we were going to overtime," Concordia head coach Paul Fessler said.
Concordia was excellent on the offensive end as they shot 50 percent (25-for-50) from the floor and 44.4 percent (4-for-9) from 3, and they were tough on the defensive end as they held the high-scoring Hornets to 40 percent (26-for-65) and 18.2 percent (2-for-11) from 3.
Despite being outscored 44-32 in the paint and 17-0 in bench points, the Golden Bears battled through to keep their season alive.
The third time was a charm for CU as it advanced past the Round of 16 for the first time in three tries. The Golden Bears' previous best showings resulted in losses in the Round of 16 in 2005 and '10. They now hold a 10-9 record in their 10 trips to the tournament.
Concordia will take on their fourth consecutive top-10 opponent in No. 10 Nova Southeastern (27-4) next Tuesday at Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa.
The Golden Bears head to the Elite Eight riding a hot streak as they have won nine consecutive and 17 of their past 19 games.
Region tournament most outstanding player Anika Whiting had her second consecutive big game with 26 points, six rebounds and three assists on 8 of 13 shooting and 10 of 14 from the free-throw line. She had a career-high 32 points on Saturday against Central Missouri.
Senior Carissa Wolyniec came through with a big game of her own as she connected on 5 of 9 from the field and 4 of 8 from beyond the arc to finish with 16 points. She was selected to the all-tournament team as she hit 11 of 21 from beyond the arc in the three games.
Ameshia Kearney had an efficient night with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 4-for-4 from the line.
Rachel Hansen was the third member of the Golden Bears to be named to the all-tournament team. She finished the game with eight points, four rebounds and three assists. She averaged 15 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the three games.
Merissa Quick led the Hornets with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 7 of 8 from the line.
All-Central Region second-teamer Laura Patrick was held to just four points and four rebounds in the loss.
They were both named to the all-tournament team along with the three Golden Bears.
The two teams traded blows in the opening minutes with six ties and a lead change in the first seven minutes of the game before the Golden Bears took control. CU went on an extended 18-7 run during the next 10 minutes to build a 30-21 advantage with 3:13 to play, but the Hornets closed the gap to 32-27 going into the break.
The Golden Bears connected on 50 percent of their shots and kept Emporia State to just 34.3 percent in the half. Concordia also held a 7-3 advantage in assists before the break.
The offense was spread out as Hansen, Whiting and Kearney each had eight points in the first 20 minutes.
Kionda Nicks was also active in the first half as she scored all six of her points, and grabbed 10 of her game-high 14 boards as well as all four of her blocks.