ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In a high-energy affair common to one of the nation’s longest-running basketball tournaments, the Bulldogs outgunned Concordia University-Chicago, 84-73, in the opening men’s contest of the 64th annual Concordia Invitational Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Friday afternoon. Second-year CUNE leader Ben Limback made his return to the place where he spent nine years as head coach and won the only two CIT titles in Concordia-Ann Arbor history.
Limback, the tournament’s first coach to win a CIT title at two different Concordias, has guided his squad to Saturday’s championship game while improving its overall record to 13-11. The Bulldogs are now 9-4 in games away from Walz Arena.
“We still have to figure out how to step on the throttle and figure out the things that got us the lead and the things we’re great at,” Limback said. “I thought we became stagnant offensively. I feel like we need to play with more confidence and focus better tomorrow night.”
A CIT all-tournament performer at least year’s event, sophomore Chandler Folkerts banked 20 points and nine rebounds while sophomore marksmen Eli Ziegler pumped in three more treys after making six in Wednesday’s win at Doane. With CUC attempting to come all the way back from a 15-point deficit, Ziegler nailed a crucial trey at the 4:06 mark of the second half, extending the Bulldog advantage to 70-61.
Just under two minutes later, Folkerts powered home a three-point play after the Cougars clawed back within four. The Bulldogs built the lead to 11 when Joel Haywood drove for an acrobatic layup that made him the 26th member of the program’s 1,000-point club. CUC provided one more push before being put away with CUNE’s 6-for-6 free throw shooting over the final two minutes.
Haywood ended up with 16 points in reaching a milestone with several family members wielding signs and fatheads bearing the Lakewood, Colo., native’s face. Haywood is now part of an exclusive club that includes his head coach.
“It feels good. It’s good to be recognized with great players that make that list,” Haywood said. “I owe it all to the guys I’ve played with in more four years here and my coaches for giving me opportunities.”
Big games from Folkerts and Haywood were needed on an afternoon when CUNE uncharacteristically shot only 58.8 percent (20-for-34) from the free throw line while withstanding several late jabs from a CUC bunch that kept coming.
The Cougars pushed the Bulldogs to the wire despite trailing by 15 in the second half. Leading by three late in the opening half, CUNE freshman guard Rudy Knight knocked in a long triple to kick start a 14-2 run that put the Bulldogs up 56-41. The run provided enough cushion as CUC’s Kylan Anderson (22 points) and Kostas Doxakis (16 points) attempted to lead a comeback.
“They kept making runs and we had to continue to push and do the things we wanted to do,” Haywood said. “We got out of sorts at times but when we got back to our game plan, worked hard and were aggressive, things started to work out for us.”
Robby Thomas recorded his fifth double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. His two blocks moved him within one of tying the program single-season record. Ziegler totaled 14 points and Knight chipped in 12 off the bench.
Over three career CIT games, Folkerts has averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.
The Bulldogs will seek their 26th all-time CIT championship trophy on Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. EST in the final game of the tournament. CUNE will play the winner between host Concordia-Ann Arbor (13-8) and Concordia-Wisconsin (12-7). The Bulldogs toppled both teams during last year’s CIT title run.