Road stretch begins with trips to Mount Marty, Briar Cliff

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 4, 2023 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The next six outings for the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team will all take place away from Friedrich Arena. That stretch begins this Wednesday when the Bulldogs will be headed to Yankton, S.D., for a clash with Mount Marty. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad will also play at Briar Cliff on Saturday as GPAC play continues. Concordia took care of business last week with high-scoring outbursts in wins at Midland, 104-86, and at home over Jamestown, 99-78. The Bulldogs have moved to 5-2 overall (2-2 GPAC) entering the week.

This Week

Wednesday, Dec. 6 at Mount Marty (2-6, 0-4 GPAC), 7:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Cimpl Arena (Yankton, S.D.)

Saturday, Dec. 9 at Briar Cliff (9-2, 3-1 GPAC), 3:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Newman Flanagan Center (Sioux City, Iowa)

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By the numbers

·        Concordia restored order last week on the heels of losses to GPAC preseason favorites Morningside and Northwestern in the opening week of conference play. The Bulldogs hung with the Mustangs and Red Raiders in showing the ability to compete with the projected top of the league. The current Massey Ratings list six GPAC teams among the top 40 in the nation: No. 6 Morningside, No. 14 Northwestern, No. 18 Concordia, No. 27 Dordt, No. 28 Briar Cliff and No. 38 Hastings. Led by dynamic guard Reggie Thomas, Hastings has started out 5-0 in league play. Morningside (4-0) is the only other GPAC team without a conference defeat. So far this season, the Bulldogs lead the GPAC in scoring with an average of 90.1 points per game. The highest recorded scoring average in the history of the program was 88.7 by the 2016-17 squad powered by All-American Chandler Folkerts.

·        Concordia has now won 10-straight series meetings with Midland following last week’s result in Fremont. The array of offensive weapons overwhelmed the Warriors. The Bulldogs shot 58.2 percent (39-for-67) from the floor and followed the lead of superstar Noah Schutte, who collected 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Four of his teammates also reached double figures in scoring: Tristan Smith (19), Lukas Helms (17), Hayden Frank (12) and Brad Bennett (11). Concordia opened the game on a 13-2 run and led by as many as 23 points in the second half. On the other side, Derek Merwick totaled 30 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals in a fine performance. The Warriors (3-6, 1-4 GPAC) went on to defeat Dakota Wesleyan, 67-57, in their weekend tilt.

·        The matchup with Jamestown (2-7, 1-4 GPAC) had a similar feel to it as the Bulldogs managed to get the shots they wanted offensively. Concordia made 34-of-70 (.486) attempts from the floor while just missing the century mark. The key sequence came in the middle of the first half when the Bulldogs erased a 20-14 deficit with a 21-0 surge. During that run, senior guard Joel Baker poured in 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field. In the paint, both Schutte (19 points, 14 rebounds) and Smith (17 points, 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles. Meanwhile, Frank tallied nine points and Helms and Brooks Kissinger contributed eight points apiece. Jamestown defeated Concordia three times during the 2022-23 season. The Jimmies are now under the direction of interim Head Coach Greg Ulland.

·        The Laurel, Neb., native Schutte deserves to be in the discussion for both GPAC and NAIA National Player of the Year accolades. Few players exhibit such consistent excellence. Over the season’s first seven games, Schutte has posted respective point totals of 25, 26, 16, 23, 20, 26 and 19. Among GPAC players, he ranks second in rebounding (9.4/game) and third in scoring (22.1/game). Schutte excels in every area of the game and sports shooting percentages of .564 from the floor, .417 from 3-point range and .765 from the foul line. On the program’s all-time lists, Schutte ranks 13th in rebounds (524) and 19th in scoring (1,312). Furthermore, Schutte has already proven successful on the grandest of stages as someone who led Laurel-Concord-Coleridge High School to a state championship and was named to the NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team in 2022.

·        The frontcourt has been as advertised with Schutte and Smith working in tandem. The Elizabeth, Colo., native Smith recovered quickly from a gruesome injury suffered last December. Through seven games, he’s averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the floor. Smith always seems to be good for at least one highlight-reel worthy dunk each game. In the win over Jamestown, Smith caught an in-bounds pass around the free throw line, made a crossover dribble, 360 spin and then two-hand dunked the ball on top of a defender. Smith is the younger brother of Gage Smith, who played five seasons with the Bulldogs before finding stardom as the MVP of SlamBall.

·        It’s a long road ahead, literally, for Concordia. The Bulldogs will get used to life on the road as they play two away from home inside the GPAC this week before preparing for a flight to Hawaii over Christmas break. To date, Concordia has played three true road games and has earned wins over Benedictine College (Kan.), 74-61, and Midland. The only road loss was a tight one (78-74) on the home court of Northwestern (currently ranked 13th in the NAIA poll). After playing two in Hawaii, the Bulldogs will also be at St. Ambrose University (Iowa) on Dec. 30 in what will be the final game of 2023.

·        The freshman class has helped make this one of the deepest teams Limback has had during his tenure as head coach of his alma mater. There are 10 players on the roster averaging at least 10 minutes per game. The workhorses, in terms of minutes per game, are Schutte (31.1), Bennett (26.4) and Smith (26.4). Two freshmen are also seeing more than 20 minutes per outing: Helms (22.4) and Kissinger (20.9). The present is bright and so is the future. In addition to Helms and Kissinger, freshmen like Frank and Tyler Harre are also playing significant roles.

Concordia Projected Starting Five
G – Brad Bennett, 6-1 (9.6)
G – Jaxon Weyand, 5-11 (3.0)
F – Lukas Helms, 6-6 (6.3)
F – Noah Schutte, 6-4 (22.1)
F – Tristan Smith, 6-5 (18.1)

The opponents

Mount Marty is in search of its first GPAC victory after falling at home to Briar Cliff, 72-57, this past weekend. Now in his third season, Head Coach Collin Authier’s program is trying to build upon the 9-19 record it produced in 2022-23. The Lancers brought back both of their All-GPAC honorees from last season in sophomores Tash Lunday (second team) and Cole Bowen (honorable mention). Lunday is averaging 18.6 points per game in following up a sterling freshman campaign. Mount Marty’s two wins have come against nonconference opponents – 122-63 over Union College and 77-69 over Dakota State University (S.D.). Concordia seems unlikely to overlook a trip to Cimpl Arena, a place where it has fallen in each of the past two trips.

Mount Marty Projected Starting Five
G – Cole Bowen, 6-4 (13.8)
G – Micah Johnson, 6-0 (7.1)
F – Aiden Jensen, 6-9 (6.4)
F – Jared Lopez, 6-5 (9.4)
F – Tash Lunday, 6-6 (18.6)

Briar Cliff left behind a disappointing 2022-23 season (14-14 overall) by racing out to an 8-0 record this season. The first two defeats were handed out by teams currently ranked in the NAIA coaches’ poll: No. 23 Columbia College (Mo.) and No. 16 Morningside. Head Coach Mark Svagera’s teams have been known for their propensity to launch perimeter shots. This team fits the mold having averaged 8.6 treys per game. Senior guard Matthew Stilwill can fill it up. He leads the GPAC with an average of 27.3 points per game, a major increase from his average of 12.2 in 2022-23. Stilwell poured in 46 points in a win at Midland. As a team, the Chargers average 84.1 points per game and shoot 49.2 percent from the field. Their opponents are averaging 77.6 points while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor. Briar Cliff shared the GPAC regular season title with Concordia in 2021-22. The Bulldogs have won three-straight meetings in this series.

Briar Cliff Projected Starting Five
G – Jamison Helmers, 6-0 (15.7)
G – Wil Lugar, 6-4 (9.5)
G – Blake Sindelar, 6-4 (14.2)
G – Matthew Stilwill, 6-2 (27.3)
F – Tyrus Eischeid, 6-5 (8.1)

Next week

After this Saturday’s game at Briar Cliff, Concordia will take another break. Up next will be the Big Island Holiday Classic slated for Dec. 17-18 in Hilo, Hawaii. As part of the event, the Bulldogs will take on NCAA Division II San Francisco State University and NAIA member Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.).