Bulldogs rise up for signature road win in shootout with No. 19 Morningside

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 31, 2024 in Men's Basketball

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Without star Tristan Smith in crunch time and down 10 points in the second half to 19th-ranked Morningside, the Bulldogs rose up. If observers nationally hadn’t been paying attention (and the latest coaches’ poll made it clear they hadn’t been), they have been compelled to do so now. Wednesday (Jan. 31)’s exhilarating offensive gunfight went the way of Concordia, 99-88, as both sides shot north of 50 percent. It was a 10-0 run for the Bulldogs in the closing five minutes that sent the Mustangs to back-to-back home defeats.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s program claimed its first win at the Rosen Verdoorn Sports Center in Sioux City since February 2016. The current five-game win streak has pushed Concordia to 16-5 overall (9-4 GPAC) and within a game of first place in the league standings.

“I’m so proud of the guys for their toughness,” Limback said. “Tristan goes down. We’re not great defensively at times, but (we made) big-time plays. Hayden Frank hit some big shots and Bradley Bennett got us the lead. Noah Schutte was Noah Schutte. We showed poise down the stretch. At CIT, we learned a lot about finishing games off and you could see it here with our poise at the free throw line. We had a really active zone. This is a gutsy road win. I’m so proud of the guys. The belief and the toughness really carried us the last five minutes.”

It took some degree of faith after Smith hobbled off the court with nearly 17 minutes to play. At the time, the Bulldogs were staring at a 58-50 deficit and were searching for answers on the defensive end. What’s more, Concordia had played back-to-back games over the weekend as part of the CIT championship run and Morningside had been idle since last Wednesday. With the circumstances seemingly favoring the Mustangs on their home court, the Bulldogs displayed their mettle.

An 8-0 run in the middle of the second half set the stage for Concordia to win at Morningside for the first time since All-American Chandler Folkerts roamed the paint. Trailing 82-80 with fewer than five minutes to go, the Bulldogs got loose in transition as Bennett finished with a three-point play. The visitors pushed their lead to 90-82 as Frank went for a steal and layup, Bennett canned a trey and Tyler Harre drained two free throws.

A Mustang team that had been red hot suddenly cooled, going 2-for-8 from the floor with five turnovers over the final five minutes. At last, the Concordia zone tightened when it needed to and contributions were made up and down the roster. When Morningside got back within six (90-84), Schutte attacked and put away two free throws to help stamp out a potential comeback.

Said Limback, “At CIT after we won and celebrated, the first thing the guys said in the locker room is now we’ve got Morningside. That’s senior leadership. We had guys practice really hard on Monday and Tuesday. This team has bought in. There are so many moments, where you need different guys. Tonight was awesome – just a team effort.”

This one made you exhausted just watching it with the way the two sides traded baskets back and forth. The Bulldogs shot 58.6 percent (34-for-58) from the floor while Morningside finished at 53.7 percent (36-for-67). Both turnovers and rebounds were about even in a game all about offensive fireworks. Schutte led Concordia with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds. Despite playing only 17 minutes, Smith poured in 19 points (3-for-3 from 3-point range) and blocked two shots. Frank posted 17 points and Bennett amassed 16 tallies. Off the bench, Brayson Mueller gets a gold star for his eight points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 19 minutes.

Morningside (14-6, 9-4 GPAC) also fell at home to Jamestown on Jan. 24. The Mustangs are loaded with offensive weapons of their own. Five of their players reached double figures on Wednesday: Ely Doble (24), Aidan Vanderloo (18), Jack Dotzler (16), Joey Skoff (14) and Dylan Johnson (12). Doble fouled out late in the contest.

A crucial stretch of the schedule continues on Saturday when the Bulldogs will welcome No. 12 Northwestern (17-4, 10-3 GPAC) to Seward for a 3:45 p.m. CT tipoff. In conjunction with the game, Concordia will celebrate 100 years of the program’s existence (more about the event can be found HERE). The Bulldogs hope to treat past players and coaches to a victory and avenge the 78-74 defeat endured at Northwestern on Nov. 18.