Bulldogs honor the past with heart stopper over No. 12 Northwestern

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 3, 2024 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – In a ‘prove it’ week, Concordia University Men’s Basketball answered the bell – and then it rang the bell. While celebrating 100 years of the program’s existence, the Bulldogs treated past players and coaches to a heart-thumping 84-81 victory over No. 12 Northwestern inside Friedrich Arena on Saturday (Feb. 3). No one in the building could exhale until Noah Schutte tracked down an Alex Van Kalsbeek 3-point misfire that banked off the backboard. Schutte hurled the ball into the air and the party was on.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad also claimed a 99-88 win at No. 19 Morningside on Wednesday after coming off a CIT championship. Even without the services of Tristan Smith, Concordia (17-5, 10-4 GPAC) found a way against one of the league’s heavyweights. The excitement came as part of a weekend that honored the program’s history with banquets, socials and food.

“I don’t know if there are words for it,” Limback said. “It was just a battle between two teams going at it. There were so many big-time moments the last five or six minutes. They hit a three to take a four-point lead. Brad Bennett made big shots down the stretch and Noah did what he needed to do for us today. You can sometimes underestimate what he’s capable of. Lukas Helms had big moments at the end. Hayden Frank stuck two big free throws when things weren’t going well for him early. Jaxon Stueve was incredible defensively. Brayson Mueller with Tristan out had a big task and he gave everything he had. It was a team victory in front of an amazing group of people here.”

There were 12 lead changes in a fistfight with blows being traded back-and-forth. In the final four-and-a-half minutes, the Bulldogs erased a 76-72 deficit when Schutte and Helms went back-to-back with 3-point field goals. After Craig Sterk evened the score, 79-79, with a trey, Bennett answered with one of his own at the 2:25 mark. The key for Concordia was holding Northwestern without a field goal over its final three offensive possessions. Following one of those empty trips, Frank canned two free throws for the final points of the afternoon.

The Bulldogs are in the process of growing up quickly. Noah Schutte was Noah Schutte on Saturday, but Concordia couldn’t have pulled it off without the contributions of many others. Mueller stepped into the starting five and supplied a career high 11 points to go along with five rebounds. The sharpshooting Bennett went 4-for-6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points while Stueve put up 11 points and three steals and Helms notched eight points and four assists.

Mueller often had the task of bumping up against the All-American Van Kalsbeek in the paint. Said Mueller, “Van Kalsbeek is a great player – one of the best in the conference. I just went into it looking at it from a defensive perspective. We didn’t want him to catch the ball easy, but I knew my teammates were going to back me up with doubles and rebounding. They did a great job.”

On the defensive end, the Bulldogs went back to their bread and butter man-to-man despite having less depth in the frontcourt. While the Red Raiders shot 54.2 percent (32-for-59) from the floor, Concordia matched that efficiency by going 16-for-38 (.421) from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs came out firing, making each of their first six shots of the contest. Schutte led all players with 25 points (10-for-19 from the floor) to go with eight rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes. Schutte burned Northwestern with five treys.

Van Kalsbeek totaled 23 points and eight rebounds as one of five Red Raiders (17-5, 10-4 GPAC) in double figures. Star guard Dillon Carlson (10 points on 3-for-11 shooting) battled foul trouble and eventually did foul out with 3:15 left in the game. Zach LaFave (11 points, 10 rebounds) turned in a double-double for a Northwestern team that had hoped to earn a season sweep of Concordia

There’s now a five-way tie for first place in the GPAC standings. There’s something special brewing in Seward, where Limback has effectively jelled together veterans and newcomers alike. Continued improvement on the defensive end will be essential down the stretch.

Said Limback, “We had to do something. First half, they were at 58 percent. I felt like we got outplayed in the first half. Second half, we were better. He (Van Kalsbeek) is a load. I thought that three he shot at the end of the game was going in. He’s a tough guy to guard … This is just going to make us better. Next man up – be ready for your moments.”

The Bulldogs will get right back to action on Monday when they will host Dordt (17-5, 10-4 GPAC) for a makeup game. Tipoff is slated for 7:45 p.m. CT from Friedrich Arena. Concordia will take on the Defenders twice in the span of 13 days with the second meeting set for Feb. 17 in Sioux Center, Iowa. The two sides split last year’s two clashes with the away team winning in both instances.