WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A decided underdog on the road at third-ranked Northwood University, the Concordia University men’s basketball team pulled off its biggest win in several years. The Bulldogs used a masterful performance on both ends of the floor and a big night from junior Robby Thomas to shellshock the defending Sun Conference champion Seahawks, 86-70, in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday.
Second-year head coach Ben Limback’s squad, which had gone nine-straight days without a game, moved to 8-7 overall and 5-3 in road contests in claiming the signature win – and second over a ranked opponent since Limback’s arrival at Concordia.
“It means a lot,” Limback said. “We’ve shown moments of greatness in other games, but tonight we were consistently the aggressor. This should improve our confidence level against any team we play. Now we don’t want to just settle. We want to continue to build on it.”
Already a rising star, Thomas headlined the program’s biggest victory in several years, going for a career high 27 points and seven rejections while leading an offensive outburst that attacked with relentlessness and had Northwood (7-2) on its heals all night. The Bulldogs nailed their first four attempts from beyond the arc, went on a 19-3 late first half run and built a lead as large as 21 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Thomas, ranked fifth nationally in blocks per game, emerged any time the Seahawks hinted at a threat.
“Great players do great things in big games. He definitely did that tonight,” Limback said of Thomas. “He stepped up. He hit a flurry of threes and attacked the basket. He did it on both ends. He blocked shots, he got deflections and he hit the big shots. He made upperclassmen plays.”
While Thomas shined most brightly, it took contributions up and down the lineup to dominate one of the nation’s top-five teams in the opposition’s own building. Often facing full-court looks from the Seahawks, Concordia took advantage by pushing the ball up the floor and getting clean looks that led to torrid shooting percentages of 61.2 (30-for-49) from the field and 52.6 (10-for-19) from the 3-point arc.
Senior guard Joel Haywood was the pillar of efficiency, making 4 of 5 shots from distance and all five attempts from the free throw line on the way to 19 points. He teamed with Thomas for a one-two punch that proved too formidable for a potent Seahawk group.
On the other end, Limback employed a zone defense that Northwood struggled to solve. Seahawk standout guard Chris Solomon, who came in averaging 19.6 points, went just 3-for-14 from the field while posting eight points. Northwood was held to 2-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc, where it shot at a .433 clip entering the night.
“Our guys did a great job of communicating and being in the right spots,” Limback said. “I thought our zone was very active. We disrupted them and did a good job on their shooters.”
It was tough sledding for the Seahawks, faced with the length of Thomas and Chandler Folkerts, who combined for 10 blocked shots. Folkerts and junior Micah Kohlwey added 11 points apiece. Justin Damme came off the bench to chip in six points and five rebounds.
As a team, Concordia piled up 12 blocks, one off a season high 13 versus Grace University, to record its first win over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 13 Oklahoma Wesleyan, 85-76, on Nov. 9, 2013.
Behind Fred Mattison (team high 22 points), Northwood attempted a late comeback and got as close as 11 points, but Thomas delivered a crushing blow to the Seahawks by drilling a cold-blooded trey with 2:28 left, making it 78-62 in Concordia’s favor.
Northwood head coach Rollie Massimino, well known for leading Villanova to the 1985 NCAA Division I national title, did not coach on Monday. Assistant Ken Gabelman filled in for Massimino.
The Bulldogs complete their stay at the Dick Versace Holiday Classic on Tuesday when they take on Concordia University-Canada. Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m. local time in West Palm Beach (4 p.m. CST). The Stingers, located in Montreal, entered the holiday event with an overall record of 1-3.