Bid to defend GPAC title ends with blowout semifinal loss

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 25, 2023 in Men's Basketball

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – A short-handed Concordia University Men’s Basketball team got outclassed by a focused Jamestown squad in the GPAC tournament semifinals on Saturday (Feb. 25) afternoon. The 11th-ranked Jimmies built a double-digit lead within the first seven minutes and rolled to a 95-77 victory while shooting 53 percent on their home court. Both Brad Bennett and Gage Smith were sidelined while feeling under the weather since taking part in the GPAC quarterfinal win at Northwestern.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad (18-12) will have to wait until Thursday (March 2) to see if it earns one of the final at-large bids into the national tournament. If not, the Bulldogs will be headed into the offseason.

“If they have their ‘A’ game, there’s not many teams in the country that are beating them,” Limback said of Jamestown. “They’re just really talented and they’re more than just (Mason) Walters. We didn’t handle their pressure at the beginning of the game very well. They did a good job of speeding us up – we turned it over 13 times in the first half. I felt like we were rattled and some of our youth showed up. At the same time, I was proud of our guys for fighting in the second half. We finally just played hard and settled into the game.”

With Bennett and Smith out of the lineup, freshman Zac Kulus and senior Kelly Vyhnalek both made their first career collegiate starts. This was a tough environment to do it in. The first half was a perfect storm that saw everything go in Jamestown’s favor. Over the first 20 minutes, the Jimmies shot 54.5 percent compared to 29.2 percent shooting by Concordia. By halftime, Jamestown had built an insurmountable 53-26 lead.

To the credit of the Bulldogs, they did manage an 8-0 run in the middle of the second half (with the help of two Logan Wilson treys) and eventually cut what had been a 31-point deficit down to a final margin of 18. On the heels of 36- and 38-point outbursts, Noah Schutte led Concordia with 23 points while making all 10 attempts from the foul line. Schutte and Garrett Seagren were the only two players available who were starters when the season began.

It was clear that the Bulldogs missed Gage Smith, who’s made himself into one of the top players in program history. Who knows what would have happened – Jamestown is the GPAC’s No. 1 seed for a reason – but Concordia would hate to end the season under these circumstances.

Said Limback, “I’m disappointed for our seniors and I really hope this isn’t their last game. Gage and Skyler (Woita) didn’t get to suit up. You never want that to be the case. You want to go out on full strength … We felt like winning the conference tournament was realistic. That’s what our mindset was. We hope that the win over Northwestern was good enough to put us on the right side of that bubble. I told our seniors that if this was our last game, ‘I’m sorry.’ I think we faced a ton of adversity this year, and I feel like this team’s deserving of a shot at the national tournament.”

Logan Wilson took advantage of 25 minutes of playing time off the bench and tallied a career high 12 points while going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Seagren added nine points, Vyhnalek chipped in with eight and Joel Baker and Payson Gillespie added seven apiece.

On the other side, Jamestown (25-5) will attempt to sweep GPAC regular season and tournament titles. Walters piled up 33 points on 13-for-15 shooting on Saturday. Cole Woodford added 17 points as the Jimmies went 3-0 this season against Concordia. Jamestown will host Dordt in the GPAC championship game on Tuesday.

The national tournament selection show is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 2. The Bulldogs reached the national stage in 2020 and 2022. The program has made 11 all-time national tournament appearances.