Bulldogs burn Morningside with three-ball, motor to GPAC semis

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 23, 2022 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – Not satisfied with sharing the GPAC regular season title, the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team looked the part of a championship team on Wednesday (Feb. 23). In front of a raucous Friedrich Arena crowd, the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs drained 15 treys and ran away from arch nemesis Morningside, 83-70, in the quarterfinals of the GPAC tournament. It really wasn’t even that close. Concordia pushed its lead all the way to 22 in the final two minutes.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad has moved to 23-6 overall. As the No. 2 seed in the bracket, the Bulldogs will be at home for as long as they remain alive in the conference tournament. Top-seeded Briar Cliff was upset by eighth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan on the other side of the bracket.

“They’re a veteran team with guys who are used to winning,” Limback said of Morningside. “You saw that in Zach Imig tonight. You knew they weren’t going to just roll over. I thought our guys were locked in. Defensively we struggled in the first half allowing too many paint touches, but we adjusted better in the second half. Our bench tonight was outstanding. Garrett Seagren – what a night he had. Ryan Holt did some great things and Sam Scarpelli’s been really good throughout. I’m so proud of our team.”

Reigning GPAC Player of the Week Gage Smith dominated the opening minutes as Concordia raced out to a 13-2 lead. The Bulldogs never lost control the rest of the way, although the battle-tested Mustangs did manage to chip away and get within seven (46-39) early in the second half. The ensuing 9-2 run that featured a trey apiece from AJ Watson, Carter Kent and Noah Schutte pushed the lead back to 14 (55-41) and Morningside never recovered.

On his layup just seconds into the game, Kent passed Matt List (1,608 points) for seventh on the program’s all-time scoring list. Kent filled the stat sheet with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists. He had plenty of help in what was truly a team win. Seagren got the crowd rocking with three first-half 3-point field goals as he wound up with 11 points off the bench. The Oakland, Neb., native was one of seven Bulldogs to make at least one 3-point field goal on the night.

Said Seagren, “They were trying to switch it up on us and they were playing zone on us. Coach said, just let it fly – anyone who’s open, just shoot. We all just shoot with confidence, and we hit them tonight.”

Gage Smith finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Holt, Watson and Tristan Smith contributed eight points apiece. The hero of last Wednesday’s epic win over Briar Cliff, Tristan Smith also collected eight rebounds. Holt made one of the highlight reel plays of the night when he poked the ball away and then flushed it emphatically with one hand.

Considering Morningside’s recent run atop the GPAC, it had to be taken serious. Imig led all players with 20 points and nine rebounds in a fine all-around effort. Aidan Vanderloo pitched in with 13 points. The Mustangs (14-12) slipped into a tie for sixth place in the GPAC standings while playing a large portion of the season without star big man Trey Brown.

Statistically the perimeter shooting was the major difference. Concordia went 15-for-33 (.455) from long distance while Morningside went 7-for-17 (.412). The Bulldogs also had the advantage on the boards, 35-28, while getting an assist from the most spirited home crowd of the 2021-22 season.

Added Limback, “We made the reads tonight and the right kicks and extra passes. It helps when you have a rowdy crowd. The student section was really good tonight again. That helps – that’s why you have home court advantage. Guys get the juices flowing.”

Concordia is now 14-0 at home this season while owning an overall program home win streak of 18. That string will be put to the test in the GPAC semifinals when Doane (19-12) will visit Seward for a 3 p.m. CT tipoff on Saturday. The Bulldogs and Tigers split their two regular season matchups with the home team winning in both instances. Concordia will be aiming to get back to the GPAC tournament title game for the second time in three seasons.