GPAC championship trophy secured in second-straight OT victory

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 24, 2024 in Men's Basketball

Senior Day Photos: @cunebulldogs Instagram

SEWARD, Neb. – It was no picnic while up against rival Midland, but the 21st-ranked Concordia University Men’s Basketball team secured its piece of the 2023-24 GPAC regular season championship. The toughness of Noah Schutte and a flurry of overtime 3-point field goals finally put Midland away, 90-84, in the regular season finale inside Friedrich Arena on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Appropriately, Schutte piled up 34 points as part of a senior day celebration.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad polished off a 15-5 league mark for the ’23-24 campaign. The Bulldogs wound up sharing the GPAC title with Hastings and Northwestern.

“You knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game – none of them are,” Limback said. “We didn’t play our best but to still have that trophy at the end, it’s surreal. You gotta enjoy these. The whole season built up to this where you have one game and you have to take care of business. I think there was some anxiety and pressure on all of us. Sometimes it’s ugly and we win them. That’s been this season – we just find ways to get it done.”

Derek Merwick and the Warriors made a serious bid at spoiling senior day for Concordia. Merwick slashed his way to a layup that knotted the score, 73-73, in the closing seconds of regulation, leading to overtime. Just like they did in Wednesday’s 69-67 heart stopper over Hastings, the Bulldogs were forced to dig deep. Hayden Frank opened overtime with a triple and then hit another one with 2:48 to go that boosted the lead to 84-76. Midland managed to fight back within four before the foul shooting of Concordia iced it down the stretch.

It was as if Schutte refused to allow his side to lose. The Laurel, Neb., native made 15-of-18 free throws while attacking the basket with reckless abandon. Schutte also grabbed 10 rebounds and two steals and dished out four assists. It was fitting that Concordia’s No. 5 all-time leading scorer enjoyed that type of success on senior day.

“It means so much to us,” Schutte said of winning another GPAC title. “We faced adversity. We had a slow start to the year in the GPAC – we were 0-2. We started to believe down the stretch. I’m proud to do it with this team, especially with the youth we have. I’m glad they get to experience this.”

In the paint, Tristan Smith (16 points and 11 rebounds) registered another double-double on an afternoon when he and Schutte rarely came off the floor. Frank put up 12 points (5-for-6 shooting) off the bench and senior Joel Baker stepped up in a big way with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from long range. In addition, Brad Bennett chipped in seven points and five rebounds.

Midland (10-18, 5-15 GPAC) played like a team with nothing to lose. It responded admirably after the Bulldogs opened the second half on a 6-0 run and erased a 40-37 halftime deficit. Neither team led by more than four points during the entirety of the second half. Merwick nearly matched Schutte as he went for 32 points and gave his side some positivity going into its offseason. Jake Rueschhoff added 14 points and eight assists as the Warriors shot 45.2 percent from the floor.

In the end, Concordia was happy to be able to exhale and show off the GPAC championship trophy in front of the home fans. In addition to Baker and Schutte, the senior class includes Trey Scheef, Casey Stegeman and Bradyn Whittington.

Said Limback, “It’s a special group. You try not to get emotional on these days when you think about what they’ve done for the program for four years. Joel Baker comes in on senior day, and I thought he gave us everything he needed to give us today. Noah Schutte does what he does and Trey Scheef is as happy as everybody else. He wanted to hoist that ball up with his teammates. That’s why I love these guys.”

Next up will be the GPAC tournament, As the No. 3 seed, the Bulldogs will welcome sixth-seeded Dordt (19-9, 12-8 GPAC) to Friedrich Arena for the conference quarterfinal round. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday. During the regular season, the two sides split the two matchups with the home team winning in both instances.

In providing some closing thoughts during the 104.9 Max Country postgame show, Limback offered, “This does not come easy. To be in that position tonight and to win in this league is really hard to do. This group came together and did it. That takes a lot of sacrifice and it takes a lot of hard work.”