MITCHELL, S.D. – The national tournament dream ended in Mitchell, S.D., once again for the Concordia University men’s basketball program. The Bulldogs endeavored to defeat 14th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan for the third time this season, but the host Tigers shot an otherworldly 62.5 percent in the second half and won, 98-90, inside the Corn Palace on Wednesday evening.
Concordia had hoped to get out of the GPAC quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Instead, fourth-year head coach Ben Limback’s squad ended the season with an overall record of 21-10. The 21 victories are the most for the program since the 2004-05 national runner-up team went 32-6.
“It was a tough second half. Obviously we were wanting a different result,” Limback said. “I told our guys that we were playing great basketball the last two or three weeks. That’s where you want to be. Certainly the seniors were a huge part of that. I’m just proud of them. I told them how far they’ve helped take the program. I feel like we’re competing at a national level.”
Even with bigs Chandler Folkerts and Justin Damme in foul trouble, the Bulldogs took a 47-43 lead to the half. Then Dakota Wesleyan (24-6) got crazy hot. Frontrunner for conference freshman of the year honors, Ty Hoglund went off. He netted 21 of his game high 37 points in the second half while playing all 40 minutes. The Tigers took the lead, 52-51, with 17:37 left and never looked back.
It turned into exactly the type of shootout one would expect when these two sides get together. Concordia was pretty solid in its own right from an offensive perspective. The Bulldogs shot 48.5 percent (33-for-68) overall and got double figures from four different players. Competing in his final game, Folkerts, one of the program’s all-time greats, posted 14 points and 10 rebounds. He eventually fouled out late in the game.
Concordia found itself in a 12-point hole with 12:28 remaining and then cut the deficit down to five (69-64) midway through the second half. Just a couple minutes later the lead was back up to double digits after Trae Vandeberg drilled a trey. There was just too much firepower for the Tigers, who ended up at 57.1 percent from the field and 52.6 percent (10-for-19) from 3-point range.
Also playing for the final time in a Concordia uniform, Eli Ziegler topped the Bulldogs with 15 points. Freshman Jake Hornick rattled in 14 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench. Freshman Tanner Shuck had the hot hand early on and finished with 12 points. Other seniors who ended their careers were Seth Curran (nine points, six assists) and Damme (six points, three rebounds).
“I really believe they helped establish a very strong culture,” Limback said of the four seniors. “It’s a team buy in. I think everybody on the team cares more about the team than they do themselves. I think that’s something the seniors helped develop here in their four years. They brought their work ethic every day in practice.”
Vandeberg had 24 points (10-for-17 shooting) and seven rebounds. Jason Spicer added 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Point guard Tate Martin went for 12 points and seven assists for the victors, who will move on to the semifinals and play at second-seeded Northwestern (24-6) on Saturday.
The Bulldogs now have the 2017-18 season to look forward to. They will go on without Folkerts, who finished with program all-time career ranks of second in rebounds (868), third in scoring (1,963) and fourth in blocked shots (142). Ziegler ranks 19th in school history in scoring (1,194).
The good news is that Limback has a blossoming freshman group including the likes of Hornick, Shuck and Clay Reimers. Those three were instrumental in Concordia winning nine of 10 games before Wednesday’s loss at Dakota Wesleyan.