Best on the plains!

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 1, 2022 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The 2021-22 Concordia University Men’s Basketball team had already reserved its place in program folklore, but it wasn’t going to settle until securing another trophy. Just after the buzzer sounded on Tuesday (March 1) night, Carter Kent fired the ball high into the air and quickly disappeared amongst a throng of jubilant CUNE students. Court storms have been a theme down the stretch for the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs, who celebrated the program’s second GPAC tournament title in three seasons. They defeated Jamestown in the 2022 GPAC tournament final, 77-70, in front of perhaps the wildest atmosphere in Friedrich Arena history.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad achieved something that had not been done by the program since the 1994-95 season – sweep conference regular season and postseason titles. Concordia will enter the national tournament at 25-6 overall and with a shot at earning one of 16 No. 1 seeds in the opening round.

“It’s awesome – I’m so proud of our guys,” Limback said. “This is why you play. The seniors set some lofty goals at the beginning of the year. GPAC regular season champs. Undefeated at home. And a GPAC tournament championship. There have been so many blessings in this season. I’m just so thankful for the talent of this team, the character and the hard work they’ve put in … How incredible were the students? Just an awesome environment.”

It took gritty defensive play down the stretch for the Bulldogs to finally put away a Jimmie squad that had pulverized its opponents in the GPAC quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. After Will Cordes’ layup with 4:42 left got Jamestown within two (70-68), Concordia went into lockdown mode. In one of the game’s most critical sequences, Justin Wiersema blocked a shot on one end and AJ Watson blew right past a defender for two on the other end with the shot clock running down. The Bulldogs led 74-68 and proceeded to hold the Jimmies scoreless on their next six possessions.

Fittingly, there were many contributors for Concordia, which beat Jamestown for the third time this season. Noah Schutte enjoyed a phenomenal performance that saw him post 22 points (15 in the first half) while Gage Smith put up 20 tough points in a physical contest (Schutte’s career high of 27 points came earlier this season versus Jamestown). Watson’s quickness was a problem all night for the Jimmies. He totaled 15 points and four assists. Defensively, Wiersema was a pest and notched 10 points, five rebounds and two steals.

Kent finished with four points, but his presence and his meaning to this team and program cannot be understated. In his final game inside Friedrich Arena, Kent helped the Bulldogs polish off the program’s first undefeated home season (16-0) during the GPAC era. It would have been difficult to script it any better.

Said Kent, “It’s so awesome. It’s been three times now in like two weeks (that the fans have rushed the court). I never get bored of it. That’s what college basketball’s all about.

“We work all year for this. I’m so proud of these guys. We’ve gone through so much adversity throughout the season. It’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride. It feels good to see it through.”

This was a more up-tempo clash than Concordia’s GPAC semifinal nail-biting win over Doane. On Tuesday, the Bulldogs shot 57.7 percent from the floor and managed to limit Jamestown (24-9) to six made 3-point field goals. Not surprisingly, the taller, longer Jimmies had the rebound advantage (36-27). Jamestown star Mason Walters collected 24 points and 10 rebounds and Cordes added 14 points. While the Jimmies had some advantages in the post, Concordia definitely won out on the perimeter.

It may be sometime in the offseason before members of the team are able to fully process the scope of the accomplishments of this 2021-22 season. Said Limback afterwards, “To see it go from these seniors’ freshmen year to now is special. I just got emotional after the game seeing what they accomplished. I don’t think they realize what a season they’ve had.”

In what was the program’s fifth GPAC tournament championship appearance, the Bulldogs claimed the fourth GPAC postseason title in school history. It had been exactly 17 years to the day since Concordia last won the conference tournament crown at home. The program has hoisted the GPAC postseason trophy in 2003, 2005, 2020 and again in 2022. Many members of the current roster were part of the 2019-20 squad that went to the Corn Palace and edged Dakota Wesleyan, 68-66, for the GPAC tournament title. Fifth-year seniors Ryan Holt and Sam Scarpelli came back to feel that glory once again.

The Bulldogs now await their national tournament draw. Pairings and site assignments for the opening round will be announced during the NAIA’s live selection show scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Thursday. The show will be streamed via the NAIA Facebook page. Concordia will be headed to the national tournament for the second time in three seasons and for the 11th time in program history.