By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
The first half of the 2015-16 season has put Concordia men’s basketball through a meat grinder. Third-year head coach Ben Limback’s squad has played in four overtime games already (winning three of them), has celebrated an upset of then eighth-ranked Bellevue University and has suffered through heartbreaking, buzzer-beating defeats to Nebraska Wesleyan and Dordt.
The cardiac Dawgs have proven they can play wire-to-wire with virtually anyone. Opposing coaches have consistently praised Concordia for its talent level while expressing concern about defending a team with a bruising post man in Chandler Folkerts and a dynamic point guard in Jamie Pearson. To be sure, Limback has put together a team with some fine individual pieces. That’s why losses like Wednesday’s 78-75 defeat at Midland sting. Said Limback on Thursday’s Bulldog Coaches Show, “These are the ones you digest for a little bit.”
A cure for that indigestion? Greater consistency. In losses at Dordt and Midland, the Bulldogs fell behind by more than 20 points in both cases and then fought back behind Folkerts’ work on the interior and sharpshooting by the likes of Eli Ziegler. There have been stretches when Concordia has looked like an upper-tier GPAC club. Not long ago it was knocking on the door of a top 25 national ranking. This team has the ability to make a run.
“I think our guys know we can do that,” Limback said. “You don’t come from 25 points down and not have the type of team that can play at the highest level. We know we’re capable of it. Right now our practices have to get better and we have to have a better toughness when things aren’t going well.”
Folkerts, a 6-foot-8 junior from Milford, Neb., has been a constant for Concordia. He is averaging 18.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and recently became the program’s 27th member of the 1,000-point club. A strong leader by example, Folkerts is confident the Bulldogs are better than their 4-6 GPAC record indicates.
“I trust all our guys. We have a lot of talent,” Folkerts said. “When we play together we go on big runs. Against Dordt and Midland we outscored them by a lot in the second half. It’s just about how we get into a rhythm with each other sooner. We do have a lot of talent. When we come together as a team, things go really, really well. It’s just trying to get back to that constantly.”
Ranked 18th nationally in scoring average, the Bulldogs want to push the pace and take advantage of their strong transition game. The ability to run the floor has aided in Concordia’s shooting percentage of 48.9 (12th best among all NAIA Division II teams) and has helped put another player within striking distance of 1,000 career points (Thomas, 987).
“A big key was we caused turnovers and got in transition,” Folkerts said of Wednesday’s comeback effort. “When we get in transition we’re really good. Everything goes a lot smoother.” Added Limback, “That’s something we really want to do is get out in transition when we have the opportunities. That is a strength of this group. We have to continue to find ways to do that.”
A hopeful climb up the GPAC standings (currently in seventh) begins with another road test – Saturday at Northwestern (9-8, 3-5 GPAC). Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. from Orange City, Iowa.
“You can’t dwell on losses,” Limback said. “You can’t dwell on wins either in this league. You have to bounce back and be ready for the next game. That’s what we’re going to do.”