HASTINGS, Neb. – A close contest for much of the first half morphed into a blowout victory as the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team opened the 2021-22 season at the Hastings Classic on Friday (Oct. 29). Five Bulldogs reached double figures in what amounted to an 87-57 victory over Friends University, a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. Concordia feasted on 24 Falcon turnovers while point guard AJ Watson notched his first career double-double.
Head Coach Ben Limback returns a seasoned and talented roster that led to the Bulldogs receiving votes in the preseason. Friday’s second half was something this team can build upon.
“I felt like our offense in the first half was solid, we just didn’t finish every play and shoot well,” Limback said. “Second half, I really challenged our guys. I though our bigs, Klay (Uher) and Ryan (Holt), did a great job on ball screen coverage. Friends had really good guards coming in here with experience. I think we held them in check, second half especially. I was really proud of our defensive effort in the second half.”
The season opener flipped late in the opening half when Watson drilled a trey just before the buzzer. That shot triggered a 14-0 run that turned a two-point advantage into a 51-35 lead. The contest became a rout as the Bulldogs turned up the defensive intensity. The Falcons failed to score a point during the first five minutes of the second half while Concordia did a number on returning Honorable Mention All-American Davonte Pack (two points on 1-for-5 shooting).
Even without a projected starter and a key reserve, the Bulldogs flashed their depth. Returning First Team All-GPAC honoree Justin Wiersema led the way with 19 points. In the scoring column, he was followed by teammates in Watson (16), Carter Kent (15), Klay Uher (13) and Noah Schutte (10). Defensively, the backcourt was active as Kent, Watson and Wiersema combined for seven steals.
Said Watson of the team’s depth, “It’s going to be scary. We’re going to have a scary team the whole season. We’ve got 10 players that you can pull out of a hat and start five.”
Concordia outscored Friends, 47-22, in the second half while building a lead as large as 34 points. Not only did the Falcons commit 24 turnovers, they shot only 37 percent (20-for-54) for the game. It took 15 shots for their leading scorer, Ian Konek, to reach a team high 10 points. The tenacious Bulldog D also swatted eight shots (three rejections by freshman Tristan Smith).
With the team’s top seven scorers back from last season, Concordia expects to be in the mix at the top of the GPAC standings. Wiersema went 8-for-14 from the floor and added four assists, two steals and two blocks in the type of all-around effort Bulldog fans have become accustomed to. Wiersema was one of six Concordia players to knock down a triple (10-for-30 as a team from 3-point range).
Said Limback, “I told the guys I have a hard job this year with the rotations and finding the right combinations, but I’d much rather have that problem than not having enough horses. I thought everyone that stepped out there today did some really good things.”
The Falcons went 8-16 last season and are in the process of building up the program under a first-year head coach in Austin McBeth. Concordia also defeated Friends at last season’s Hastings Classic with the final score being 102-82.
The Bulldogs will return to the Hastings Classic on Saturday for a 2 p.m. CT tipoff with Presentation College (S.D.). Entering the event, the Saints (1-3) had been beaten by three GPAC opponents already during the 2021-22 season.