SEWARD, Neb. – This was something of an early ‘prove-it’ kind of game for the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team, which went up against a squad picked second in the GPAC. The Bulldogs saw a second-half lead of 15 points evaporate before putting together a game-defining run in crunch time. Concordia managed to fend off visiting Northwestern, 77-74, inside Friedrich Arena on Saturday (Nov. 14).
Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad completed a successful first week of GPAC play that also included an 82-55 win over Midland on Tuesday. The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-0 GPAC) have won five-straight games.
“I was really pleased (with our response at the end),” Limback said. “(Ryan) Holt hits a big three in the corner and then all of a sudden we get a couple attacks with and-one baskets to the rim. Defensively I thought we did a pretty good job in the second half on their big and then (Trent) Hilbrands got going. It was just a gutsy performance. We needed a stop at the end and we got it. We were fortunate to get a win.”
At one point, the Red Raiders (2-1, 0-1 GPAC) trailed by 16 points. They came all the way back and led, 62-60, after an Alex Van Kalsbeek bucket at the 6:48 mark of the second half. That’s when Concordia showed the mettle that made it a GPAC tournament champion last season. Justin Wiersema followed with a basket and the Bulldogs went on to construct a lead of nine (76-67) after Sam Scarpelli’s darting layup – and one.
Northwestern kept coming and got back within two (76-74) on Hilbrands’ trey in the final 30 seconds. Hilbrands had one last try for a tie, but his 3-pointer at the buzzer was blocked by Wiersema. This has become a team and a program that believes it will win these types of games.
“Playing in the GPAC, anybody can beat anybody on any night,” Scarpelli said. “Every game is crucial, especially playing at home. You have to get a win at home when you can … I’m having fun. I just love my teammates. I love playing with them. My role is to bring energy, get people going and try to get the offense set up.”
On the boards, Concordia junior Gage Smith has been channeling his inner Dennis Rodman. The native of Elizabeth, Colo., pulled down 18 more rebounds on Saturday while collecting his fourth double-double already this season. Four of the five Bulldog starters reaching double figures in scoring: Scarpelli (15), Wiersema (14), Carter Kent (11) and Smith (10).
Concordia shot a solid 47.5 percent (29-for-61) from the floor while containing Northwestern to 44.3 percent (31-for-70). The Bulldogs made seven of their first 13 3-point tries and were 12-for-33 from long range for the contest. Holt nailed two triples, including one that moved the lead from three to six with 2:03 left in the game.
Northwestern also fell victim to the Bulldogs three times during the 2019-20 season. Hilbrands poured in a game high 19 points and Van Kalsbeek added 16 (to go along with seven rebounds). Five Red Raiders reached 10 or more points.
Limback is also liking what he’s seeing from the group off the bench. Said Limback, “We needed some of that bench play in the first half and I think that’s what gave us our lead. There’s a group out there that was getting layups, getting threes and getting stops – largely because of that bench energy.”
Due to the postponement of the scheduled game at Doane, the Bulldogs will wait until next Saturday (Nov. 21) to return to action. Dordt (5-0, 1-0 GPAC) will visit Seward for a 4 p.m. CT tipoff. The Defenders are receiving votes nationally (so too is Northwestern).