Bulldogs hold off IU Northwest, advance to NAIA second round

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 16, 2024 in Men's Basketball


SALINA, Kan. – This time of year is all about finding a way to advance your name on the bracket. Clutch plays in the final couple of minutes allowed the fourth-seeded Concordia University Men’s Basketball team to pull out a hair-raising contest in the first round of the 2024 NAIA Basketball National Championship tournament. Not surprisingly, it was Noah Schutte who emerged with the steal that helped seal the 83-81 victory over No. 13 seed Indiana University Northwest in Salina, Kan., on Friday (March 15).

Head Coach Ben Limback has his program one win away from reaching Kansas City for the second time in three seasons. The Bulldogs (24-7) have qualified for the national tournament for the 13th time in school history.

“We had a great first half and did a lot of the things we wanted to do,” Limback said. “We had good rhythm and it felt like we had good balance. Second half, we got on our heels. We had some defensive lapses and didn’t finish plays. They’re really, really good at getting to the basket, and that gave us problems. Down the stretch, we knew how to handle it because we’ve been there all season. Now’s the time to make the plays. We weren’t pretty down the stretch, but we found a way.”

The 15th all-time national tournament win for the Bulldogs came down to the final possession. After Schutte went 1-for-2 at the foul line, the Red Hawks had the length of the floor to go while down two with 8.1 seconds on the clock. After IU Northwest crossed the timeline, a fumbled pass wound up in the hands of Schutte, who hurled the ball into the frontcourt to drain the remaining few seconds. Concordia put itself in position to enjoy a lead down the stretch thanks to two key baskets in particular – a driving layup by Shutte with 2:28 left and then a trey by Lukas Helms at the 1:48 mark.

Once Helms’ trey fluttered through the net, the Bulldogs owned an 81-77 advantage. In the final minute, Concordia did just enough as it went just 2-for-6 from the foul line. Two stops on the defensive end over the closing 60 seconds proved critical. The 30 points of guard Trace Williams weren’t quite enough to bring IU Northwest all the way back from a 20-point first-half deficit.

Schutte matched Williams with 31 points, as the Laurel, Neb., native totaled a new career-high for a national tournament game. Schutte made 11-of-18 shots from the floor and sank 7-of-9 free throws. No one should have been surprised by the production of Schutte, a 2022 NAIA National Championship All-Tournament selection.

Said Limback, “Noah was tremendous. His ability to get to the rim, get to the free throw and command double teams was a key factor. He had some nice kickouts and he hit a big three in the second half we needed to gain some momentum. He was a leader. You could tell he’s been in this situation. It’s not easy to do when you’re the marked man.”

Concordia built its 20-point first half lead (48-28) while sparkling from long range. The Bulldogs drained 9-of-14 attempts from the perimeter over the game’s first 20 minutes. Tristan Smith backed Schutte with 19 points and seven rebounds. Nine different Concordia players netted at least one trey. Helms totaled nine points and four rebounds and Brad Bennett and Brooks Kissinger chipped in six apiece.

The two sides also met at the national tournament in Omaha in 2022 with the Bulldogs also taking that contest. IU Northwest concluded its season at 21-11 overall. The Red Hawks fell despite shooting 49.2 percent from the floor (compared to 52.7 percent for Concordia). Anthony Taylor (20) and Dannie Smith (13) also reached double figures.

Limback and his squad were impressed by the atmosphere at Mabee Arena in Salina, home to Kansas Wesleyan. The fifth-seeded Coyotes were bounced from their own home floor, 95-89, in overtime by 12th-seeded LSU-Shreveport (23-8). Concordia will attempt to take down the Pilots on Saturday.

The second-round contest in Salina is slated to get underway at 6 p.m. CT. The winner will be one of 16 teams left standing and will earn a trip to Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

“We’re going to have to really defend and rebound that first shot,” Limback said of playing LSU-Shreveport. “They’ve got great length. They’re even bigger than the team we played today. We’re going to have to play a more aggressive 40 minutes of offense too. We have to play with confidence and aggressiveness the entire game.”