SALINA, Kan. – Looking for a win at Kansas Wesleyan University for the second-straight year, the Concordia University men’s basketball team stormed back from a 23-point second-half deficit to claim an 85-72 win in Salina, Kan., in Friday night’s season opener. Concordia dug in defensively, holding the host Coyotes to 27.6 percent shooting in the second half as the Bulldogs triumphed in the season’s first game for the third time in the past four years.
“Robby kept us in it in the first half. We really dug ourselves a big hole,” second-year head coach Ben Limback said. “We talked at halftime about playing better defensively. Our defense started to pressure better and we got loose in transition.”
Senior wing Robby Thomas poured in a career high 23 points and snared 10 rebounds. He filled up the stat sheet with three blocks, two steals and two assists. The Shawnee, Kan., native’s play was a constant in a game in which a switch flipped roughly four minutes into the second half.
Trailing 59-36 with 16 minutes to play, the Bulldogs went to work. Junior Micah Kohlwey drilled a 3-pointer and Concordia finished the game with an eye-opening 49-13 run of dominance to make it a double-digit victory. A Kansas Wesleyan team that shot lights out in the first half suddenly could not buy a bucket.
“They did a great job coming out on fire,” Limback said. “We knew they would be excited for their home opener. They did some good things off the dribble and were a balanced team. We tried to outscore them in the first half. I didn’t like our approach defensively in the first half.
“I was proud to see our guys come back from that large of a deficit. That showed guts and leadership. Our guys really came together.”
Not only did the Bulldogs pull it together defensively, they also began raining triples. Concordia used eight 3-point field goals as part of its game-winning second-half flurry. Sophomore sharpshooter Eli Ziegler, who went 5-for-11 from deep on the night, sniped a trey that got his squad within one and then another just over a minute later that pushed the Bulldog lead to 71-67 with 4:02 left in the game.
Concordia edged in front, 68-67, on a Joel Haywood free throw and then never gave the lead back. Kansas Wesleyan was unable to mount any kind of late threat as it was held to just a single made field goal over the final six minutes.
As a team, the Bulldogs shot 14-for-36 (.389) from 3-point range. Ziegler, Haywood (3-for-6), Kohlwey (3-for-6) and Thomas (2-for-7) all had multiple 3-point makes. Meanwhile, Kansas Wesleyan, led by Dominique Johnson (team high 19 points) knocked in 9 of 18 3-point attempts, but only three of its triples came after halftime.
Haywood (18), Ziegler (16) and Kohlwey (15) joined Thomas in double figures in scoring. Haywood added seven assists, six rebounds and five steals in 34 minutes. Folkerts posted eight points and a pair of blocks.
The double-double was the fifth in the career of Thomas, who continues to blossom.
“He’s a difference maker,” Limback said. “He can change the game at both ends. He was consistently plugging away. He does everything for us. He’s in for a great season.”
Limback also liked the minutes off the bench provided by Ziegler and sophomore Aaron Walker.
“I thought Eli and Aaron were outstanding,” Limback said. “They did some great things and showed a lot of leadership and poise.”
The Bulldogs will stick around in the state of Kansas and take on Bethel College in North Newton at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Threshers, a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, are off to an 0-1 start following Thursday’s 80-73 loss to Grace University. Concordia and Bethel last met on Nov. 10, 2012, when the Bulldogs won, 73-70, in Seward.