GPAC Championship Preview: Concordia versus Jamestown

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 27, 2022 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – For the second time in three seasons, the Concordia University Men’s Basketball program has advanced to the GPAC tournament championship game. When the action tips off on Tuesday night, it will mark the first time the Bulldogs have hosted the conference final since 2005 and it will also be the first ever GPAC men’s basketball tournament championship game held inside Friedrich Arena. Head Coach Ben Limback will take his squad up against Jamestown, which has blown out its first two GPAC tournament foes. Concordia has reached this point with wins over Morningside, 83-70, in the quarterfinals and over Doane, 67-65, in the semifinals.

GPAC Championship Game

Tuesday March 1: Concordia (24-6, 15-5 GPAC) vs. Jamestown (24-8, 12-8 GPAC)
--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

·        A GPAC tournament title would allow the Bulldogs to leave no doubt as to who reigns supreme atop the conference. Concordia is getting set for its fifth conference championship game appearance during the GPAC era. Past advancements to the final came in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2020. 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, 62-58, in 2005 and over Dordt, 90-82, in 2003. Concordia lost the championship game at Northwestern, 91-83, in 2001.

·        It wasn’t easy, but the Bulldogs got it done in the GPAC semifinals while outlasting Doane in front of one of the better atmospheres ever witnessed inside Friedrich Arena. A late 8-0 run by the Tigers made it a nail-biter in the final minute. Doane’s Anthony Laravie tied the game, 65-65, with less than 30 seconds remaining via an offensive rebound and layup. On the ensuing possession, Carter Kent let the clock dip below five seconds before pulling the trigger on a 15-foot fadeaway with a defender in his face. The shot went down with 3.3 seconds left. Doane had one last chance, but the in-bounds pass was dropped and picked up by Kent, who finished with 10 points and seven assists. Gage Smith produced 14 points, Justin Wiersema added 10 points and Tristan Smith posted nine points and six rebounds off the bench.

·        Kent continues to climb the program’s all-time scoring list. With 10 points against Doane, he pushed his career total to 1,634. That moved him past Rick Dietze (1,625) for No. 6 among the top scorers in school history. With two games still guaranteed (counting at least one national tournament game), Kent appears poised to leapfrog Director of Athletics Devin Smith (1,659) for No. 5 on the list. Also named a CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree for the third-straight year, Kent is the only player in program history with at least 1,600 points, 400 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. In addition, teammate Justin Wiersema now sports all-time program ranks of ninth in assists (291), tied for 18th in rebounds (466) and 19th in scoring (1,231).

·        Through the first two rounds of the GPAC tournament, Gage Smith has led the team in scoring with 29 points while Kent is close behind with 27 points. Kent has also dished out a combined 13 assists over the past two outings. Off the bench, Tristan Smith has produced averages of 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds during the GPAC tournament. Tristan Smith will be one to watch as he continues to develop. Referred to by Limback as the team’s most athletic player, Tristan Smith brought the crowd to a frenzy in the win over Doane with a thunderous put-back slam. He seems to make at least one big highlight reel play every game. His finish of the full-court alley-oop that beat Briar Cliff made the rounds on ESPN’s lineup of shows.

·        Not since the 1995-96 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.

·        According to the NAIA’s “net efficiency” metric, the Bulldogs and Jimmies are the top two teams in the GPAC. When factoring in all games played this season, Concordia sports GPAC rankings of third in scoring offense (79.4), third in field goal percentage defense (.441), third in rebound margin (+3.5), fourth in field goal percentage offense (.485), fourth in scoring defense (70.7) and 10th in 3-point field goal percentage offense (.346). Meanwhile, among GPAC teams, Jamestown ranks first in scoring offense (80.5), first in rebound margin (+10.1), second in scoring defense (69.9), second in field goal percentage defense (.432), third in field goal percentage offense (.492) and third in 3-point field goal percentage offense (.391).

The opponent
Based on last season’s run to the national quarterfinals and a preseason NAIA national ranking of 19th, Jamestown likely expected to earn a better GPAC tournament seed than No. 5. However, the Jimmies may be hitting their stride at the right time. They blew out Dordt, 83-59, in the GPAC quarterfinals and then routed Dakota Wesleyan, 81-56, in the conference semifinals. Any team with a player like reigning GPAC Player of the Year Mason Walters (24.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg) is a serious threat in every game. Walters helps open things up on the perimeter for guards Will Cordes, Marc Kjos and Cole Woodford. One thing Head Coach Danny Neville’s squad does better than any team in the GPAC is rebound. Jamestown can play really big when it brings 6-foot-11 Devon Schultz in off the bench. The Jimmies will be looking to get Concordia back after the Bulldogs swept the regular season series. Concordia won by scores of 92-76 in Seward and 82-79 in North Dakota. Jamestown has won the GPAC tournament title once (2019) since joining the league beginning with the 2018-19 season.

Projected starters

Concordia (24-6)
#5 Carter Kent, G (16.3)
#10 Justin Wiersema, G (11.6)
#11 Gage Smith, F (13.9)
#12 Noah Schutte, F (12.8)
#14 AJ Watson, G (9.5)

Jamestown (24-8)
#0 Marc Kjos, G (11.2)
#1 Will Cordes, G (13.6)
#5 Cole Woodford, G (10.8)
#24 John Argue, F (6.5)
#33 Mason Walters, F (24.5)

GPAC tournament pairings

Quarterfinals – Wednesday, Feb. 23
(8) Dakota Wesleyan def. (1) Briar Cliff, 85-77
(5) Jamestown def. (4) Dordt, 83-59
(6) Doane def. (3) Northwestern, 64-61
(2) Concordia def. (7) Morningside, 83-70

Semifinals – Saturday, Feb. 26
(5) Jamestown def. (8) Dakota Wesleyan, 81-56
(2) Concordia def. (6) Doane, 67-65

Championship – Tuesday, March 1
(5) Jamestown at (2) Concordia, 7 p.m.