SEWARD, Neb. – Game day atmospheres don’t get much better than this in collegiate athletics. With a boost from a raucous Friedrich Arena crowd, the Concordia University Nebraska Men’s Basketball team reigned supreme at the Concordia Invitational Tournament once again. CIT MVP Noah Schutte helped spearhead an 82-64 victory over Concordia University Wisconsin in Saturday (Jan. 28)’s championship clash. Brad Bennett knocked down seven treys in a scintillating performance of his own.
The weekend marked the seventh time Head Coach Ben Limback has led teams to CIT titles (including two during his tenure at Concordia Ann Arbor). The 2022-23 Bulldogs (14-9) have seized the program’s 29th all-time CIT championship.
“I think both teams were feeding off the atmosphere,” Limback said. “There were great runs and great momentum plays. We had a tough opponent. I thought Wisconsin was locked in too. What a night. Hopefully the fans and alums enjoyed it. We certainly did. It’s always nice when you come up on the winning side.”
This was a rematch of the 2020 CIT title game rout won by CUNE, 92-55, in River Forest. But this matchup wasn’t quite like that one. CUW (6-13) didn’t just go away quietly. It put together a 10-1 run early in the second half and trailed just 48-42 at the time. The Bulldogs responded and maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the contest. On both Friday and Saturday, it was freshman Zac Kulus who stepped up to deliver daggers from 3-point range. Kulus called game when he drained a trey at the 3:47 mark of the second half pushed the advantage to 74-57.
The sniper Bennett rained in six of his 3-point field goals during a dizzying first half effort. He finished with a game high 23 points to go along with six rebounds. On the interior, Schutte put away a hard-earned 19 points as he went 11-for-12 from the foul line and posted five rebounds and five assists. The MVP Schutte also collected 22 points and 12 rebounds in Friday’s victory over Concordia University Chicago. In the title game, Kulus (14) and Payson Gillespie (10) reached double figures off the bench.
The growth of the young guys is a key to the Bulldogs’ chances of gelling in the final month of the regular season. Said Limback, “That was our biggest takeaway – we had some guys who really grew up this weekend, this week, really. I thought our freshmen were really good this weekend. Obviously Brad shot it really well today. Kelly Vyhnalek did some really good things in the second half for us. It was really good to play in this environment and see some growth out of our guys.”
Gage Smith made his way onto the all-tournament team for a solid two-game run that included a near triple-double on Friday. He added six points, eight rebounds and six assists in the championship game. The Bulldogs shot only 39.1 percent from the field but got to the foul line (19-for-27), won the rebound battle (45-35) and netted 13 triples. Meanwhile, CUW shot 40.7 percent (24-for-59).
The Falcons played to a level this weekend that belies their overall season record. CUW landed Jared Jurss on the all-tournament team. He posted 12 points in the championship game. A team high 21 points came from big man Gabe Pruss.
As a fifth-year player, Gage had experienced two other road CITs, but this one takes the cake. Said Smith, “There’s nothing like it, honestly. I thought the GPAC championship last year couldn’t be topped, but this was close. There were a lot of people out here that came to support us. It was a crazy environment. It made us all go harder.”
It will be GPAC play for the remainder of the regular season as the Bulldogs now get set for Wednesday’s trip to Fremont, Neb., home to Midland (9-14, 3-12 GPAC). Tipoff from the Wikert Event Center is set for 7:45 p.m. CT. CUNE manhandled the Warriors on the boards in the season’s first matchup and ran away with it, 83-47, on Nov. 16.
2023 CIT All-Tournament Team
MVP – Noah Schutte, CUNE
Kip French, CUAA
Jared Jurss, CUW
Jordan Matthews, CUC
Gage Smith, CUNE