SEWARD, Neb. – The highly anticipated Battle in the Vault (presented by Campio) is up next for the Concordia University Men’s Basketball program. The Bulldogs can now focus their attention upon the matchup with fifth-ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan University after polishing off final exams and a 74-61 home win over Doane on Thursday. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad will kick off the Battle in the Vault at 1 p.m. CT from Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln on Tuesday. Two additional games between NCAA Division I schools will follow at the same venue. Tickets remain on sale (see link below).
Battle in the Vault (presented by Campio)
Tuesday, Dec. 20 | Pinnacle Bank Arena (Lincoln, Neb.)
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1 p.m. – Concordia vs. Oklahoma Wesleyan
4 p.m. – Mississippi State vs. Drake
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska vs. Queens
By the numbers
· Concordia now stands at 9-3 overall (6-3 GPAC) following Thursday’s victory. As of Wednesday, the Bulldogs slipped just outside of the NAIA coaches’ top 25 poll, appearing as the first team among “others receiving votes” in the latest national rankings. In previous editions of the coaches’ poll, Concordia landed at No. 23 (Nov. 16) and at No. 19 (Nov. 30). Currently, the Bulldogs are listed as the GPAC’s third-ranked team behind Jamestown and Morningside. Nationally, the Jimmies are ranked No. 9 while the Mustangs are ranked No. 23. In addition, Dordt is also receiving votes. According to Massey Ratings, Concordia is the No. 12 team in the NAIA and has played the nation’s 32nd most challenging schedule to this point.
· The most recent Concordia-Doane meeting had occurred in the 2022 GPAC tournament semifinals and went right down to the wire with Carter Kent’s pull-up jumper proving to be the difference in a 67-65 Bulldog win. There wasn’t as much drama this time around as the Bulldogs maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the night. An early 14-0 run gave Concordia control in a contest it led by as many as 18 points (42-24) in the first half. Noah Schutte knocked down each of his first four 3-point attempts on his way to 19 points. In the second half, Tristan Smith answered the call every time the Tigers threatened to make things interesting. Tristan finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. Point guard AJ Watson also added 14 points and eight rebounds and Gage Smith contributed nine points, 11 rebounds and three steals. As a team, the Bulldogs went 16-for-31 (.516) from 3-point range. Brady Timm paced Doane (7-6, 4-3 GPAC) with 21 points.
· Pinnacle Bank Arena will not be a completely foreign experience for former Nebraska prep stars like Schutte, who led Laurel-Concord-Coleridge High School to a Class D1 state championship as a senior in 2020. In the championship game played at PBA, Schutte notched 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Bears rolled past Southern Valley, 76-31, in front of limited fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other Bulldogs who played at PBA during their high school careers include Joel Baker, Brad Bennett, Payson Gillespie, Zac Kulus, Brayson Mueller, Trey Scheef, Jaxon Weyand, Logan Wilson and Skyler Woita.
· Schutte has pushed his career collegiate totals to 743 points and 307 rebounds in 64 games as a Bulldog. He’s one of five Concordia players averaging in or very near double figures: Schutte (17.3), Tristan Smith (14.5), Gage Smith (12.9), Brad Bennett (11.5) and AJ Watson (9.7). In terms of team scoring average, Concordia ranks fourth among GPAC teams with an average of 79.6 points per game – behind Dordt (95.3), Jamestown (90.8) and Northwestern (84.8). The Bulldogs have been arguably the GPAC’s best defensive team while currently leading the league in fewest points per game allowed (65.1) and field goal percentage defense (.395) and ranking second in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.277).
· Currently the GPAC’s leading rebounder at 10.3 boards per game, Gage Smith now stands alone at No. 5 in program history with 758 career rebounds (he’s also pushed his career point total to 1,117). Smith is looking up on the rebound list at Matt List (928), Chandler Folkerts (868), Scott Beck (781) and Jon Ziegler (762). It’s true that Gage is in his fifth season of college hoops, but he’s piled up the numbers in a fairly modest number of games – 116. Kind of like Schutte, Smith used his freshman season to adjust to the college game.
· Based on this week’s NAIA coaches’ poll, Oklahoma Wesleyan will be the highest-rated foe Concordia will play this regular season. The Bulldogs have endured losses to No. 9 Jamestown and to No. 23 Morningside (and will play both once more this regular season). Back on Nov. 12, the Bulldogs dominated (78-58 final score) a Briar Cliff team that was ranked 24th at the time. Concordia also comfortably beat Dordt (receiving votes) on the road, 87-72. To date, the three teams the Bulldogs have defeated outside of GPAC play are unranked: Tabor College (Kan.), Ottawa University (Kan.) and Waldorf University (Iowa).
Oklahoma Wesleyan will enter the contest with a record of 12-1. Head Coach Donnie Bostwick led the program to the same round as Concordia reached this past season – the NAIA national quarterfinals. The Eagles have won eight consecutive games since their 73-68 loss at Evangel University (Mo.), a squad now ranked 20th in the NAIA poll. Oklahoma Wesleyan has been one of the nation’s top defensive teams and sports NAIA national rankings of first in opponent field goal percentage (.356) and 12th in scoring defense (61.7) while ranking No. 9 in the NAIA in rebound margin (+10.4). The leading scorers for the Eagles are Jaden Lietzke (14.9), Kaleb Stokes (12.2) and Brandon Bird (11.9). OKWU has been especially dominant in the month of December in winning 78-52 over Friends University (Kan.), 75-44 over Kansas Wesleyan University, 58-39 over Avila University (Mo.) and 98-64 over Ottawa University.
Concordia (9-3, 6-3 GPAC)
G – AJ Watson (9.7)
G – Garrett Seagren (4.1)
F – Noah Schutte (17.3)
F – Gage Smith (12.9)
F – Tristan Smith (14.5)
Head Coach: Ben Limback (288-274, 19th season overall; 173-116, 10th season at CUNE)
Oklahoma Wesleyan (12-1)
G – Austin Poling (5.8)
G – Derrick Talton Jr. (7.2)
G/F – Brandon Bird (11.9)
F/C – Jaden Lietzke (14.9)
F – Kaleb Stokes (12.2)
Head Coach: Donnie Bostwick (9th season)
Coach Limback: “They’re (Oklahoma Wesleyan) a really good basketball team. It’s fun to play outside our league against a top 10 team – they’re well-coached and they’re deep. It should feel like a tournament game. It’s fun to play in Pinnacle, a big arena. A lot of guys haven’t been there yet.”
Noah Schutte: “It’s a game we had circled on the schedule at the beginning of the year. We’re playing a really good team at Pinnacle Bank Arena where a lot of fans can come and support a lot of Nebraska guys we have on the roster. There’ll be a lot of my family there. They’ve talked about it for a long time. Some of my family has courtside seats. I think they’re really excited.”
Following Tuesday's game, the Bulldogs will take a break for Christmas and then get prepared to take on Texas Wesleyan University on Dec. 28 and the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma on Dec. 30 as part of a trip down south.