SEWARD, Neb. – Visiting Concordia University Chicago showcased plenty of fight on Friday (Jan. 27), but it ultimately got buried in a flurry of Zac Kulus treys down the stretch. The breakout game for Kulus helped carry the Concordia University Nebraska Men’s Basketball team to an 89-70 win over the Cougars on day one of the 70th Concordia Invitational Tournament. Kulus and familiar standouts Noah Schutte and Gage Smith were the ringleaders in the latest triumph.
Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad also defeated Hastings on Wednesday and has moved to 13-9 overall. Limback and his crew faced a lot of unknowns on Friday against a squad that had not yet played in the calendar year 2023.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” Limback said. “They had a lot to play for and that’s a good basketball team. It took everything in us. I loved Zac coming off the bench and hitting those big threes in big moments. I thought our defense was forcing some tough shots, and they were making them. They got loose in transition a little bit. I’m proud of our guys to fight through. They were a very tough team to guard. It’s all about getting to that next night and the championship game.”
Kulus waited until crunch time before unloading from downtown, each successive triple causing greater uproar from a frenzied Friedrich Arena. The Concordia Omaha High School product showed no fear in finding the bottom of the net at the 10:17, 6:49, 6:19, 3:56 and 2:50 marks of the second half. When that barrage began, CUNE held a tenuous 63-56 lead. When it ended, the advantage had swollen to 86-66 in the final few minutes. The Bulldogs shot 52.9 percent from the floor in the second half while eventually pulling away.
Prior to Friday, Kulus’ season high point total had been nine at Waldorf University (Iowa). His game is growing exponentially. Said Kulus, “I started off pretty good and then my teammates were finding me. Coaches were putting me in the right spot. From there I was just continuing to get shots up within the offense. It just all came together really well.”
It’s been a beastly week for Schutte, who totaled 22 points (10-for-13 from the floor) and 12 rebounds on Friday. CUC struggled to contain him in the post. As for Gage Smith, he wasn’t far off a triple-double with his line of 13 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two blocked shots. As a 6-foot-6 post player, Gage has shown an incredible gift for setting up his teammates. Other solid contributors included Kelly Vyhnalek (nine points), Brad Bennett (eight points and five rebounds), Garrett Seagren (six points) and Jaxon Weyand (five points and eight rebounds).
Some unfortunate circumstances have put the Cougars (8-3) in a tough spot after they shared their conference regular season title last season. Despite the challenges, they never backed down on Friday. CUC got 23 points from Jordan Matthews and 15 from Emanuel Wilson. The Cougars shot 42.0 percent for the game. CUC enjoyed a large advantage in turnovers (plus-11) but was also struck by a major disadvantage in rebounding (48-26).
Said Limback, “It’s always fun when you get into the championship game. We’ve had some good battles over the years (with Concordia Wisconsin). It looks like they play a lot of zone, and we’re going to have to be sharper with taking care of the basketball. I love the atmosphere and I’m excited to see what tomorrow night holds.”
The 70th CIT will continue on Saturday with cheer and dance competitions and four more basketball games. In the 5 p.m. CT championship game, the Bulldogs will go up against fellow NAIA member Concordia University Wisconsin (6-12). The Falcons toppled Concordia University Ann Arbor, 80-68, in the first men’s game of the event. Winner of 28 all-time CIT titles, CUNE will be aiming to repeat its championship celebration of 2020.