SEWARD, Neb. – A thrilling final week of the regular season leads the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team into the quarterfinals of the GPAC tournament. Thanks to a 2-0 week that included a dramatic 74-73 win over No. 22 Briar Cliff and a dominant road win, 86-70, at Dakota Wesleyan, the Bulldogs claimed a share of the GPAC regular season title. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad wound up as the No. 2 seed in the conference postseason bracket and will host seventh-seeded Morningside on Wednesday. Concordia enters the league tournament at 22-6 overall (15-5 GPAC).
Wednesday, Feb. 23 vs. Morningside (14-11, 11-9 GPAC), 7 p.m.
--Live Webcast/Stats | 104.9 Max Country
--Admission: $10 for adults/senior citizens, $3 for K-12; only those with NAIA passes and GPAC student ID’s will be admitted free of charge.
By the numbers
· Last week felt like a dream. After the Bulldogs had seemingly suffered a heartbreaking loss to Briar Cliff on a 3-point shot that put the Chargers up 73-72 with one seconding remaining, the incredible happened. Carter Kent’s length-of-the-court alley-oop found Tristan Smith for the game winner at the buzzer, setting Friedrich Arena into a frenzy. The play was featured across many ESPN shows, including SportsCenter, Around The Horn and College GameDay. Two days later, the Chargers looked emotionally spent in a 63-41 loss at Doane. It opened the door for Concordia to pull even atop the conference standings.
· Not since the 1995-95 season had the program won a conference regular season title. Limback was a player on the ’95-96 squad that then Head Coach Grant Schmidt guided to an 11-1 mark within the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference. In addition to ending that drought, the 2021-22 Bulldogs have broken the program record for conference wins in a single season with 15. The previous standard of 14 was held by the 2004-05 and 2020-21 squads. In terms of postseason success, the program has celebrated GPAC tournament titles in 2003, 2005 and 2020. The most recent Concordia team to sweep conference regular season and postseason championships in the same year was the 1994-95 squad that went 30-4 overall.
· The Bulldogs led by as many as 14 points in the second half of the Feb. 16 win over Briar Cliff. The Chargers tied the game with a late 11-0 run that finally ended with Kent’s go-ahead elbow jumper with 10 seconds left. Four Concordia players finished in double figures in scoring: Gage Smith (23), Kent (18), Justin Wiersema (11) and AJ Watson (10). As part of his monster night, Gage Smith pulled down 17 rebounds. In the win at Dakota Wesleyan, the Bulldogs displayed similar scoring balance with all five starters hitting double digits: Noah Schutte (20), Watson (17), Wiersema (15), Gage Smith (13) and Kent (12). The most eyepopping stat from that game was Concordia’s mere four turnovers. Schutte grabbed 10 rebounds as part of a double-double and helped the Bulldogs outrebound the Tigers, 35-27.
· In the win over Briar Cliff, Kent totaled 18 points in addition to the pass that had everyone buzzing. That outing pushed Kent to No. 8 on the program’s all-time scoring list as he surpassed former teammate Tanner Shuck (1,579). Entering the week, Kent’s total now sits at 1,607 career points. He’s just one point behind Matt List (1,608) at No. 7 on the list. The Crete High School product has a shot at finishing in the top five with the conference and national tournaments yet to come. Within range are No. 6 Rick Dietze (1,625) and No. 5 Devin Smith (1,659). Also last week, Kent was named a CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree for the third-straight year.
· By way of tiebreakers, Briar Cliff was awarded the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament and an automatic berth to the national tournament. The Bulldogs do not yet have an auto bid, but it’s safe to make plans for the opening round of the national tournament. Concordia is a lock thanks to a strong season profile. The Bulldogs remain the GPAC’s highest rated team in both the Massey Ratings (15th) and the official RPI (16th). Concordia has also been a more impressive statistical team than Briar Cliff. The Bulldogs rank No. 1 in the GPAC within conference games in net efficiency (.114) and in average scoring margin (+7.5).
· A GPAC tournament title would allow the Bulldogs to leave no doubt as to who deserves the title of the league’s top dog. In the process of winning the GPAC tournament title, the 2020 team ended the program’s postseason dry spell which saw it go from the 2009-10 through the 2018-19 seasons without winning a conference tournament game. The conference tournament run in 2020 included wins over Northwestern (home), 74-63, Hastings (home), 71-61, and Dakota Wesleyan (away), 68-66. Then last season, Concordia saw its campaign end with a 70-58 GPAC quarterfinal defeat at Dakota Wesleyan. Going back farther, the Bulldogs won GPAC tournament title games over Sioux Falls in 2005 and over Dordt in 2003.
Concordia got a monkey off its back on Jan. 19 when it defeated Morningside, 83-68, inside Friedrich Arena (current home win streak now stands at 17). Prior to that result, the Mustangs had won each of the previous 12 series meetings. In the month of February, Morningside has suffered a series of close losses – 75-74 at Dordt, 81-78 versus Briar Cliff, 103-95 in overtime versus Dordt and 79-75 versus Midland. It meant that the Mustangs fell all the way to the No. 7 seed after winning GPAC regular season titles in each of the previous four seasons. The absence of standout big man Trey Brown due to injury is part of the explanation. Guards Aidan Vanderloo (13.9 ppg) and Zach Imig (10.6) give Morningside the makings of a team capable of going on a postseason run. Trent Miller is in his first season as head coach after taking over for Jim Sykes, now the school’s Athletic Director.
GPAC tournament pairings
Quarterfinals – Wednesday, Feb. 23
(8) Dakota Wesleyan at (1) Briar Cliff, 7 p.m.
(5) Jamestown at (4) Dordt, 8 p.m.
(6) Doane at (3) Northwestern, 8 p.m.
(7) Morningside at (2) Concordia, 7 p.m.
Semifinals – Saturday, Feb. 26
1/8 winner vs. 4/5 winner, time TBA
2/7 winner vs. 3/6 winner, time TBA
Championship – Tuesday, March 1
Highest seed hosts, time TBA