SEWARD, Neb. – The bench came through with one of its best performances of the season and an overall stingy defensive effort allowed the 19th-ranked Concordia University Men’s Basketball team to rule the day. The Bulldogs held visiting Northwestern to 31.1 percent shooting while cruising to an 81-55 victory on Saturday (Dec. 3). AJ Watson paced Concordia with 17 points and the bench combined for 31 points.
Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad shook off Wednesday’s loss at Morningside and moved to 7-2 overall (4-2 GPAC).
“Defensively, I thought we did a great job,” Limback said. “We just needed to finish. I thought our offense was better in the second half. We got some transition opportunities and I thought our bench – Joel (Baker), Logan (Wilson) and Payson (Gillespie) gave us a good spark. Too many turnovers prevented us from breaking it open earlier, but a lot of credit to Northwestern. They’re physical defensively. Once we got some threes and got to the free throw line, that made the difference.”
Northwestern got within 43-40 early in the second half before the Bulldogs made it a runaway thanks to a 24-5 run capped by Baker raining in a shot from long range. Concordia combined strong 3-point shooting (14-for-34) with gritty work on the glass (43-34 rebound advantage) while limiting the Red Raiders well below their season scoring average of 87.6. Northwestern (7-3, 2-2 GPAC) were once again without All-American big man Alex Van Kalsbeek.
Tristan Smith took advantage and enjoyed a fine night that included 16 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists. “T-Ray,” as his teammates call him, got loose with a steal and a one-hand dunk that punctuated the dominant second half run. On the defensive end, Garrett Seagren drew the task of defending top Red Raider scorer Dillon Carlson, who finished 4-for-13 with 14 points on Saturday.
“I would say the key was swinging the ball,” Tristan Smith said. “Coach talks about getting third-side reversals because it creates a lot of long closeouts. Payson came off the bench hit some big ones for us to allow us to push it from 10 to 20. Working as a team offensively helped a lot and getting offensive rebounds led to kickout threes. The bench was huge today.”
Of course it helps to have Watson back at the point guard spot. He swiped three steals and dished out three assists in addition to playing strong defensively. Concordia is at its best when Watson is too. Baker (12) and Gage Smith (10) also reached double figures in scoring. Three days after his triple-double, Gage Smith posted five assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks while again stuffing the stat sheet. Gillespie and Wilson both went 2-for-3 from 3-point range while combining for 14 points. Standout Noah Schutte was limited to 17 minutes as Limback attempts to get him closer to 100 percent health.
Said Limback, “We have a lot to clean up. We can always improve, but I really liked our defense tonight. I thought Garrett did a good job on their leading scorer to make it hard and we controlled the glass again.”
Northwestern, a 2022 national qualifier, received votes in the NAIA preseason poll. The Red Raiders were led on Saturday by 18 points from Craig Sterk. He and Carlson combined for 32 of the team’s 55 points.
The Bulldogs will be back at Friedrich Arena on Wednesday to host Mount Marty (5-7, 2-4 GPAC) for a 7:45 p.m. CT tipoff. The most recent meeting between the two programs resulted in a 70-67 overtime upset for the Lancers in Yankton, S.D. Mount Marty has won league games this season over Dakota Wesleyan and Midland.