Smith slams door Schutte on Dordt

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 28, 2024 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – It just wouldn’t be Concordia University Men’s Basketball if it didn’t come down to the wire. In another heart thumper, the 20th-ranked Bulldogs waited until the closing seconds to put away visiting Dordt in the GPAC tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday (Feb. 28). A posterizing tip slam by Tristan Smith was the key basket down the stretch in an 87-83 white-knuckler of a victory for Concordia. Smith and fellow frontcourt star Noah Schutte both provided double-doubles.

Head Coach Ben Limback and company have had Bulldog fans reaching for the heart medication of late. Concordia’s past three home games (including two overtime contests) – all wins – have been decided by a combined margin of 12 points. It just finds a way.

“We guarded in the halfcourt – we weren’t very good in transition in moments,” Limback said. “(Connor) Millikan got loose in the first half and had a nice spurt, but then we controlled their transition game and got some stops. We had two or three steals where we just didn’t convert that big play to push the lead to three or four possessions. But how about Tristan Smith? We had the shot clock winding down and he had a big finish when we needed it – and the tip dunk at the end. And Noah was Noah.”

The ability of the Bulldogs (23-6) to survive and advance just might pay off as the calendar flips to March. When things get tight, the formula for Concordia is to isolate Schutte, allow him to attack and give Smith the chance to sky for errant shots. It works. The Bulldogs broke a 79-79 tie with fewer than three minutes left when Schutte scored in transition off the dime from Brooks Kissinger. Concordia managed to hold onto the lead the rest of the way with Smith’s thunderous tip slam answering a Dordt trey. A stop on the other end and two made free throws from Schutte pushed the Bulldog lead to 85-80 in the closing seconds.

It was no surprise that this contest was played up-tempo when considering the styles of both squads. There were also few secrets with this being the third Concordia-Dordt matchup in the month of February. Even with the opposition’s focus upon him, Schutte posted a game high 25 points in addition to 11 rebounds. Smith backed him with 24 points, 12 rebounds and two steals. That duo went a combined 21-for-37 from the floor in taking the lion’s share of the offensive load.

Neither team ever felt comfortable on Wednesday. The Bulldogs built a 10-point first-half lead and then trailed by three at the half (43-40) before building a seven-point second-half advantage that would also collapse. No sweat, Concordia lives for these moments.

Said Smith, “It’s been fun. We’ve shown that we can win the close ones and we can blow teams out. These last few games have been huge for us and I think they’re going to play a huge role in our run at the national tournament. They’re all going to be close, tough, gritty games. The ability to win tough ones has been huge for us.”

Other double-figure scorers for the victors were Kissinger (14) and Hayden Frank (10). Brad Bennett chipped in with six points. Though Concordia went only 5-for-22 (.227) from 3-point range, they made 14-of-15 (.933) foul shots and owned a 42-32 advantage on the boards.

Said Limback, “I love the way we rebounded and I love the way we fought in the half court. Offensively, we put up 87, but we really weren’t efficient all the time. That’s where we can get better … You get to see who is ready for the big moments (in these types of games). At this point, you just have to win the game each time and keep fighting as long as you can.”

Still likely to be included in the national tournament, Dordt (19-10) got 22 points from Millikan. It was also a big day off the bench for Ty Van Essen, who notched 17 points. The Defenders kept themselves in it the whole way through by going 11-for-25 (.440) from 3-point range.

The Bulldogs have reached at least the GPAC semifinals for the third-straight year. As the No. 3 seed, Concordia will be headed to second-seeded Hastings (21-8) for a 3 p.m. CT matchup on Saturday. The two sides split their two regular-season meetings with both games ending in nail-biters – 79-78 in favor of Hastings and 69-67 (overtime) in favor of the Bulldogs. The Broncos won their quarterfinal game over seventh-seeded Briar Cliff, 76-61, on Wednesday.