Scintillating second half carries Dawgs in regular season's final home game

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 15, 2023 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – Visiting Briar Cliff recovered in the first half after surrendering a 17-0 run, but it had no shot of digging out from a 35-3 surge in the second half. While playing what might have been its final home game of the 2022-23 season (barring conference tournament upsets), Concordia University Men’s Basketball made 13 of its first 17 second half shots in the process of running away from the Chargers, 85-56, on Wednesday (Feb. 15). Almost a year to the date that the Bulldogs celebrated an epic win at the buzzer over the Chargers, no drama was necessary.

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad has won six of its last seven outings while moving to 17-10 overall (11-9 GPAC). Concordia has guaranteed that it will finish above .500 in GPAC play for the fourth season in a row.

“Second half, we really challenged the guys to allow our defense to play into our offense,” Limback said. “I thought Gage Smith was incredible defensively. He’s so active and makes so many plays for us that I don’t think people see all the time. Then our offense started to get going. I’m so proud of our team for that big run in the second half. Defense is our identity, and it certainly was that way in the second half.”

Another tense GPAC tussle appeared to be transpiring when Nick Hoyt’s 3-point field goal put Briar Cliff within two (37-35) early in the second half. The aforementioned 35-3 run then unfolded while initiated by a three-point play from Smith. Perhaps more remarkable than the Bulldogs’ shooting during that stretch was its defensive play. After Hoyt’s trey at the 17:46 mark, they did not score another basket until there was 6:17 remaining in the game. By that point, Concordia’s lead had ballooned to greater than 30 points.

If this was the final home game for Gage, it was a nice way to go out. He finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots. During the first half, he moved up a rung to No. 2 on the program’s all-time rebounding list (currently at 874 rebounds).

“There was a lot of motivation – last home game, so much history we’ve accomplished the past five years,” Smith said. “I just wanted to end on a good one, always finish strong.”

Plenty of others had a hand in lighting it up during a 55-point second half. Late in that run, Brad Bennett canned back-to-back treys as part of his 16-point outing on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor. Meanwhile, Noah Schutte was his usual productive self with 16 points and seven rebounds. Garrett Seagren also reached double figures with 10 points to go along with four assists and Jaxon Weyand chipped in with six points, four rebounds and three assists.

Seniors like Seagren knew this could be the final home game of the season, but it wasn’t a talking point. Said Limback, “We didn’t talk about it a lot. Wild things can happen. Potentially Briar Cliff could be an 8 seed, which is crazy. You never know, but you want to cherish these moments. What a special group. I can’t say enough about these young men.”

The Chargers (13-13, 7-12 GPAC) may need to win at Doane on Saturday in order to qualify for the GPAC tournament (currently tied for eighth place). On Wednesday, Briar Cliff got a team high 12 points from Matthew Stilwill. The Chargers managed to make 9-of-29 (.310) shots from 3-point range but surrendered 54.5 percent shooting to Concordia. The Bulldogs made 22-of-33 (.667) field goal attempts in the second half while also going 10-for-17 from 3-point distance. Concordia also owned a 37-26 advantage on the boards.

On Saturday it’ll be off to the Corn Palace, a place where the Bulldogs celebrated a GPAC tournament title in 2020 and clinched the conference regular season title in 2022. Game time in the matchup with Dakota Wesleyan (12-15, 8-11 GPAC) is slated for 3:45 p.m. CT in Mitchell, S.D. Concordia won the first meeting, 78-69, in Seward. No matter the result, the Bulldogs are locked into the No. 5 spot for the upcoming GPAC tournament.