SEWARD, Neb. – Visiting Tabor College (Kan.) immediately tested the press break of the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team. That style of play was just fine for the Bulldogs, who enjoy getting up and down and playing in track meets. Concordia shot nearly 70 percent from the floor in the first half on its way to a lopsided 88-52 win over the Bluejays as part of day one (Nov. 4) at the 23rd annual Cattle Classic. Tristan Smith showed off his high-flying exploits while thundering home a career high 23 points.
Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad figures to roll out one of the country's more athletic and talented frontcourts, but the backcourt showed it can reload after graduating the likes of Carter Kent and Justin Wiersema.
“I was pleased. This was a game that really challenged our backcourt with pressure,” Limback said. “AJ (Watson) did a great job of setting the tempo, and I was really proud of Garrett (Seagren). I thought Garrett defensively really set the tone and got us going. Off the bench, Brad Bennett can shoot, and that’s going to help us space the floor. It was nice to see how different guys handled some adversity with things we don’t always see. We’ll keep growing. This is a hard-working team and they’re fun to be around.”
The first half was a thing of beauty for the Bulldogs, who knew Tabor (1-1) was going to bring the heat. The Bluejays had just come off a 94-68 win over College of the Ozarks that saw them force 23 turnovers. Concordia was ready. With Watson at the controls, the Bulldogs consistently broke the press, resulting in uncontested dunks and 3-point field goals. Tabor got within three (12-9) at the 14:20 mark before Concordia went on a 39-11 run to finish the first half. By that point, it was 51-20 and the game was all but decided.
Tristan Smith went 8-fo-11 from the floor while racking up his 23 points. The highlight of the night came early in the second half when Smith made a cut to the basket and Watson delivered him a perfect alley-oop pass for the two-hand slam. Fellow frontcourt mate Noah Schutte tallied 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals in a fine night of his own. Back for a fifth season in 2022-23, Gage Smith (nine points and 11 rebounds) just missed a double-double before fouling out.
Thirteen different Bulldogs found their way into the scoring column. Watson put up six points and five assists. Bennett led a strong group of reserves with six points on two 3-point field goals. Concordia finished the night at 53.3 percent (32-for-60) from the floor and held a 45-37 advantage on the boards. The press did lead in part to 17 Bulldog turnovers. Tabor turned it over 20 times.
The Bluejays got a team high 12 points from Thatcher McClure. Tabor was held to 31.7 percent (19-for-60) shooting. It also had a rough night from the foul line in going 11-for-25.
If there’s anything more Limback would have liked to see, it would have been his team keeping the foot on the gas in the second half. Said Limback, “We wanted to make sure to take care of the ball and also play off that transition if we had number advnatages. I thought the first half AJ set the tempo and then Tristan, Noah and Gage finished down low … I felt like we stopped moving the ball in the second half. That’s the lesson we learned. We have to be a 40-minute team.”
On day two (Nov. 5) of the Cattle Classic, Concordia will go up against Ottawa University (Kan.) (2-1) with tipoff at 4 p.m. CT. In their Cattle Classic game on Friday, the Braves were blown out by Hastings, 87-51.