Bulldogs treat partisan Omaha crowd to national tourney win

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 12, 2022 in Men's Basketball

OMAHA, Neb. – It felt like a home game on Friday (March 11) evening as the Concordia University Men’s Basketball program showcased an offensive clinic in the opening round of the 2022 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship. Five Bulldogs tallied 13 or more points and the fifth-seeded Bulldogs rolled to a 96-78 win over 12th-seeded Indiana University Northwest inside DJ Sokol Arena in Omaha. Led by 21 points from Noah Schutte, Concordia shot 49.3 percent from the floor and led by as many as 22 points.

The win marked another new accomplishment for members of Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad. The program has earned its first national tournament win since 2005. The Bulldogs have moved to 26-6 overall.

“You walk out and you’re at the national tournament and to have a home atmosphere, I thought it was amazing,” Limback said. “I got a little emotional in the beginning hearing the fans cheering. When we share the ball like we did offensively we’re a really hard team to stop. Noah was outstanding in the first and second half and the team fed off each other offensively. Congrats to Indiana Northwest on a great season. We were fortunate today to be able to score a lot.”

The Red Hawks of Gary, Ind., had just enough length and athleticism to make it a challenge for Concordia. The game seemed to turn late in the first half when the Bulldogs turned a one-point lead (33-32) into a 13-point advantage (54-41) at the break. During the surge, Carter Kent and Justin Wiersema got loose from the perimeter and AJ Watson beat the halftime buzzer with a driving layup.

IU Northwest (23-8) never got closer than 10 the rest of the way. Though the Red Hawks got 17 points from Marshaud Watkins, they never figured out how to contain Schutte, who put up 11 points in the first half and then 10 more in the second half while making 8-of-9 attempts from the floor. Watson, who finished with 17 points and three assists, left no doubt with two late dagger triples.

Schutte and company looked like seasoned vets on the national stage. Said Schutte, “We were collected – we weren’t nervous at all. We came out and Coach told us, we control the court and we’re going to win this game. We were grabbing rebounds and getting out in transition and getting whatever we want on offense.”

Schutte and Watson were at the top of the pack in terms of scoring. They were followed in that category by Kent (14), Tristan Smith (14) and Wiersema (13). Gage Smith and Sam Scarpelli contributed seven points apiece. Schutted hauled in nine rebounds and Tristan Smith pulled in eight. Despite a size disadvantage, the Bulldogs had their way on the boards, 47-38. Gage Smith became the 11th player in program history with at least 600 career rebounds.

This part I of II for a Concordia team with aspirations of being one of the final 16 left standing. Said Limback, “It’s important to bounce back. The guys even said as they checked out of the game at the end, ‘that’s one.’ Tomorrow we play Marian, who is very, very good. They play in a great league. At this point you have to keep elevating your game and play your best.”

Jared Johnson (first team all-conference) was limited to 5-for-19 shooting for IU Northwest, a member of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Red Hawks shot 40.5 percent (32-for-79) from the floor in their first ever national tournament appearance.

A win on Saturday would send the Bulldogs to Kansas City, Mo., the final site of national tournament. In the national round of 32, Concordia will meet fourth-seeded Marian University (Ind.) at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday. Sokol Arena will again serve as the venue. Earlier on Friday, the Knights edged No. 13 seed Freed-Hardeman University (Tenn.), 66-64.