SEWARD, Neb. – With a spot in the GPAC championship game on the line, Friedrich Arena rocked and rolled as the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team continued a magical ride. Carter Kent’s mid-range jumper with 3.3 seconds left lifted the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs to a 67-65 win over Doane on Saturday (Feb. 26) afternoon. Concordia is headed to the GPAC final for the second time in three seasons after fending off a late 8-0 run by the Tigers.
Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad improved to 15-0 at home and experienced another on-court celebration along with a raucous student section. The Bulldogs are now 24-6 overall.
“It was two good teams that had a lot to play for,” Limback said. “I’m so proud of our guys – Carter hits that big shot at the end and Sam Scarpelli had that layup for us that was really important. Tristan (Smith) was really good off the bench too. Hats off to Doane. I thought they proved again that they’re one of the better defensive teams in the league.”
No full-court alley-oop was necessary, but this contest was more reminiscent of the wild win over Briar Cliff on Feb. 16 than it was the comfortable 83-70 victory over Morningside in the GPAC quarterfinals. In Saturday’s nail-biter, Doane star guard Anthony Laravie evened the score, 65-65, with an offensive rebound and putback in the final 30 seconds. On the ensuing possession, Kent let the clock run under five seconds before pulling the trigger on a difficult fade-away jumper from 15 feet over the reach of the Tigers’ Alec Oberhauser.
Doane still had one more chance, but the in-bounds pass was dropped and picked up by Kent, setting off another court rush by Concordia students. The Bulldogs had led nearly the entire way, but the Tigers made it uneasy for all 40 minutes.
Said Justin Wiersema, “This means the world to us. We knew we could get here. We’ve been practicing hard and we know what to do. We’re back in the championship game – it’s huge. We got it here next Tuesday, so that’s even bigger. We’re all super excited.”
Wiersema also gave a nod to the fans. Each of the past three home games have featured electric atmospheres. Tristan Smith helped power up the voltage to another level when he thunderously slammed down a put-back dunk in the first half. The human highlight reel Smith finished with nine points and six rebounds off the bench. Three Bulldogs reached double figures: Gage Smith (14), Kent (10) and Wiersema (10) while Noah Schutte (eight points and four rebounds) was within range. AJ Watson chipped in six points and two steals and Scarpelli collected five points.
Not since the 1994-95 season has the program won both conference regular season and postseason championships. The 2021-22 team will have the opportunity for a sweep.
“They’re excited,” Limback said. “That was a big goal for this team to try to get the regular season title and win the conference tournament. To be able to do it at home is great. This crowd was incredible. It’s going to be a big-time battle. We had a fun matchup with Jamestown here the first time at home. We’re going to have to bring our top game and be ready to play.”
Doane (19-13) certainly played at a national tournament level down the stretch having beaten Concordia recently as well as Briar Cliff and Northwestern. Laravie did his part in piling up 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting. Josiah Gardiner added 15 points and five rebounds and Oberhauser (11 points, 10 rebounds) notched a double-double. The Bulldogs won two of three meetings over the Tigers with both wins coming in Seward.
Doane slightly outshot Concordia (47.3 to 46.3 percent) and had an edge on the boards, 32-30. Turnovers were also nearly even (13-12) in a contest that fittingly went down to the wire.
As the highest remaining seed, the Bulldogs now have the honor of hosting the GPAC tournament championship game. The opponent will be Jamestown (24-8), who will be in Seward on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. CT tipoff. Concordia won both regular season meetings with victories coming by scores of 92-76 in Seward and 82-79 in Jamestown. The Bulldogs will seek their second GPAC tournament title in three seasons and fourth in program history. This will be the first time the program has hosted the GPAC championship game since 2005.