Interior advantage pulls Bulldogs through in GPAC home win

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 7, 2022 in Men's Basketball

WATCH: AJ Watson to Tristan Smith alley-oop dunk in transition

SEWARD, Neb. – Some familiar themes repeated themselves on Wednesday (Dec. 7) as the 19th-ranked Concordia University Men’s Basketball team used its muscle inside to gain the advantage over Mount Marty. Those areas of strength allowed the Bulldogs to absorb a strong push from the Lancers and win, 86-64, inside Friedrich Arena. It took roughly 38 minutes for Concordia to feel like it had put away Mount Marty, which twice drew within seven during the second half.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad has won back-to-back GPAC home games while pushing the overall mark to 8-2 (5-2 GPAC). The Bulldogs have won 25 of their last 26 home contests.

“We got the result we wanted, but I didn’t feel like we were very in-tune to the game today,” Limback said. “We kind of muddled around the first half and gave up some threes we knew they could shoot. We weren’t sharp. Second half, I thought we gave pretty good effort. I thought their freshman (Tash) Lunday had a great second half and got it going, which kept things interesting. We weren’t very good offensively, but I told them, you get a win and still score 86, that’s how fortunate we are.”

That second half surge Concordia hoped for finally came late in the action. Mount Marty still had a puncher’s chance when Lincoln Jordre’s bucket made it a 10-point game (71-61) with just over six minutes to play. The Bulldogs responded with their best stretch of the night as they finished the game on a 15-3 run that began with Payson Gillespie’s driving layup. Gillespie and Brad Bennett knocked in a trey apiece during the spurt and finally, AJ Watson and Tristan Smith provided a treat for those who stuck it out to the finish. On the game’s final basket, Watson lobbed an alley-oop in transition to T-Ray, who emphatically slammed the ball home with the right hand.

In the end, Concordia’s frontcourt was too much for another opponent. The Bulldogs owned the glass (38-22) and got a combined 52 points from Tristan Smith (20), Noah Schutte (18) and Gage Smith (14). Gage just missed a double-double as he snared nine rebounds while little brother Tristan snagged seven rebounds. The energetic Watson ran the show and added 11 points, five assists and three steals. Off the bench, Bennett got hot and poured in 18 points while making 4-of-5 shots from deep.

The impressive freshman Lunday produced right at his season scoring average (20.5) with a game high 21 points. The Lancers (5-8, 2-5 GPAC) got behind by 14 points early in the second half and then trailed by as little as seven points (60-53) with less than nine minutes remaining. Mount Marty had hoped to stun the Bulldogs the way they did last season in Yankton – a 70-67 overtime win.

Schutte looked closer to form on Wednesday as he has fought through pain in recent action. Said Limback, “He’s getting healthier. You could see it tonight. He’s one of those guys who can move and manufacture buckets inside. I thought Brad Bennett was really good again and gave us some good stuff. Payson certainly hit two big shots for us. We score 86, but it just didn’t feel like Bulldog Basketball. That’s something we have to address and know that we have to be better.”

The Bulldogs will attempt to continue their series dominance of Hastings (9-2, 3-2 GPAC) on Saturday when the two sides meet inside Lynn Farrell Arena for a 3:45 p.m. CT tipoff. Concordia has won each of the past 13 matchups with the Broncos, who have a new head coach in Todd Raridon. Hastings began this season at 8-0 while surpassing its win total from 2021-22 (7-23 overall).