SEWARD, Neb. – A second half explosion propelled the Concordia University men’s basketball team to the CIT title game for the fifth-straight season. The Bulldogs shot 60 percent over the final 20 minutes and exacted revenge on Concordia University Ann Arbor by way of an 85-65 victory in River Forest, Ill., on Friday afternoon.
Ben Limback, who led CUAA to its first two CIT titles during his previous coaching stop, will aim for his fourth CIT championship as a head coach. CUNE has won three-straight games to move its overall record to 14-9.
“When we take care of the ball and multiple guys touch it, good things happen,” Limback said. “Offensively and defensively, we’re so long and athletic it’s about making the smart plays. We had to maintain aggressiveness.”
The firepower of Chandler Folkerts inside and Jamie Pearson outside dashed CUAA’s hopes of winning a second-straight CIT title. With the Cardinals chirping and on a 5-0 mini run, Pearson buried a corner trey that sparked CUNE’s offensive onslaught. Folkerts highlighted the 32-12 surge with a monster throwdown while being contacted by a CUAA defender. The Cardinals couldn’t stop the Bulldog roll and the lead ballooned to as many as 24 points.
CUNE put together a rock-solid effort that included perfect 20-for-20 foul shooting. The Bulldogs owned the boards, outnumbering CUAA 40-26. CUNE shot 55.6 percent (30-for-54) from the field compared to 39.3 percent (24-for-61) shooting by the Cardinals.
CUAA (10-13) struggled gaining traction against the Bulldogs’ interior defense (seven blocked shots). Senior Robby Thomas broke Glen Snodgrass’ program career blocks record with a pair of rejections on Friday. Thomas, who hails from Shawnee, Kan., now has 189 career blocks. Folkerts (21 points, 11 rebounds), who notched his seventh double-double in nine games, also swatted three shots.
“In the second half we took it up a notch,” Limback said. “Chandler was just a man tonight.”
Then there was Micah Kohlwey diving on the floor with no regard for his own livelihood. Kohlwey got the large CIT crowd roaring with a sequence of hustle plays in the second half. On the other end, Pearson sniped from the outside and the locomotive kept churning.
“They’re a really tough team,” Pearson said. “Coach told us to go hard to the glass. In the first half they kind of caught us off guard. We wanted to come back and make a hard push in the second half. A big part of it was when Micah came in with four fouls and sparked the team with a couple steals and a couple hustle plays. We really just feed off of each other.”
Pearson concluded the game with 18 points as one of four Bulldogs to reach double figures. The others were Thomas (14 points, four assists) and Eli Ziegler (10 points). Limback commended sophomore guard Rudy Knight for his work off the bench. Knight recorded eight points and three assists (one turnover) in 14 minutes.
Alec Turner, who hit the game-winning shot to beat the Bulldogs in last year’s CIT championship, produced 16 points while going 4-for-8 from 3-point range. Connor Phee emerged from the bench and put up 14 points and eight rebounds.
CUAA led only briefly when it went up 3-2 in the opening two minutes of action. CUNE pushed its first-half lead to as large as 12 points and then led 36-28 at the break. The Bulldogs held an advantage the entire second half.
The Bulldogs resume action from CIT at 7:15 p.m. in Saturday’s title tilt. Concordia will try to add to its CIT record 25 tournament championships when it hits the hardwood at Gieseman Gymnasium on the Concordia University Chicago campus.