GPAC tournament run ends in semis, Bulldogs await national tournament draw

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 2, 2024 in Men's Basketball

HASTINGS, Neb. – The second meeting in 11 days between the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team and Hastings resulted in another nail-biter. With a spot in the GPAC tournament final on the line, the Broncos played just a bit cleaner down the stretch and treated their home fans to an 82-78 victory inside Lynn Farrell Arena on Saturday (March 2). The 20th-ranked Bulldogs allowed a four-point lead in the final 1:30 to slip away in the conference semifinal clash.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad stands at 23-7 overall and will assuredly earn an at-large bid to the national tournament as a squad that shared the GPAC regular season title.

“We had a couple key turnovers in the final few minutes, and they didn’t,” Limback said. “We didn’t finish the plays down the stretch in the last minute-and-a-half. Most of the season, we have been making those plays. One of the biggest differences in the game was Hastings only had five turnovers. To be in another close game like this will help us at the national tournament.”

Concordia certainly had its shot at playing in a GPAC tournament title game for what would have been a third time during Limback’s tenure. Noah Schutte’s layup at the 1:26 mark pushed Concordia’s lead to 78-74. Hastings’ Anthony Thompson then emerged with a critical trey to cut the lead to one. A Bulldog turnover subsequently led to two points for Grady Corrigan and made it 79-78 in the final minute. The closing four Concordia offensive possessions resulted in a turnover, two missed layups and a missed 3-point try.

This one wasn’t quite the same defensive grinder that Bulldog fans saw inside Friedrich Arena on Feb. 21 when Concordia found a way to pull out a 69-67 overtime win. In Saturday’s matchup, both teams shot above 50 percent from the floor. Bulldog sharpshooter Brad Bennett got hot early and finished with 15 points while making 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Schutte recorded 22 points, six rebounds and three assists and Tristan Smith put forward another big effort. He piled up 20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists. In addition, Lukas Helms and Jaxon Stueve supplied eight points apiece.

Offensively, Hastings (22-8) employed a two-man wrecking crew as Tyrique McMurrin and Reggie Thomas combined for 49 points. Concordia used mostly man-to-man defense while mixing in a bit of the 3-2 zone that it showed in the most recent meeting with the Broncos. The superstar Thomas added six rebounds and six assists to his stat line in leading Hastings into uncharted territory. The Broncos have never before played in the conference final.

There were just 14 combined turnovers on the day. Concordia held a slim advantage in rebounding, 33-30, and just barely shot a higher percentage from the floor than Hastings, 52.7 to 52.6.

The silver lining for the Bulldogs is that they now have a chance to rest up. The first round of the national tournament will not be played until March 15. As part of the late season grind, Concordia has played 12 games since Jan. 26.

Said Limback, “We have to get healthy in some areas. Noah and Tristan can use the break. When it’s all said and done, you just want to compete. To not be done after losing a game in the conference tournament shows a lot about how our program has progressed. We’re glad to be one of the 64 teams still fighting. It will be a fun opportunity for us.”

The 64-team bracket for the 2024 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship will be unveiled on Thursday, March 7. Concordia will be headed to one of the 16 first/second round host sites that was announced by the NAIA this past week. Those host sites can be found HERE.