SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – An eerie emptiness has settled upon basketball arenas across the country. That same hollowness fell upon the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Thursday (March 12). A limited number of fans were allowed into the venue as the Concordia University men’s basketball team made its first national tournament appearance since 2005. The Bulldogs led nearly the entire game before falling in the first round, 87-84, while up against fifth-ranked Ottawa University (Kan.).
Just after the game finished, the NAIA announced that the remainder of its winter national championships had been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Win or lose, head coach Ben Limback’s squad would have been heading home. Concordia (24-10) gave it everything it had in its final time out in 2019-20.
“You have to look at the big picture,” Limback said. “Hopefully they really celebrate that. Today is tough because it’s their last game. What those seniors have done from last year to this year is incredible. We had our chances today and battled against a good team. I’m proud of these guys. I hope they celebrate what a blessing this year has been.”
The Bulldogs essentially appeared to be the equal of the Braves (28-6), champions of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season. Seventh-seeded Concordia put together a serious upset bid while building a second half lead as large as 12 points over second-seeded Ottawa. The ringleaders for the Bulldogs were two seniors who played their final collegiate games – Chuol Biel and Tanner Shuck, who combined for 37 points.
The Braves took their first lead of the entire game with 15.2 seconds left when Ryan Haskins drilled a trey in the corner. Concordia did not have a response. It turned the ball over on the ensuing possession on a play that involved contact to Justin Wiersema. KCAC Player of the Year Darryl Bowie then put up the game’s final two points from the free throw line.
Ottawa was able to overcome the dominance of Biel inside. Known more for his prowess as a defender, Biel made 9-of-10 shots from the floor and totaled a career high 19 points. Shuck also continued his hot shooting. He went 4-for-5 from 3-point range and racked up 18 points. Wiersema (16) and Carter Kent (12) also reached double figures.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs could not get enough stops. The Braves shot 71.4 percent (20-for-28) from the floor in the second half and 63.6 percent for the game. Jaquan Daniels was nearly unstoppable. He slashed his way to 27 points on 12-for-13 shooting. Bowie actually comes off the bench, but he still logs starter’s minutes. He posted 19 points in addition to the key steal in the closing seconds.
Three seniors had been part of the Concordia starting lineup all year – Biel, Shuck and Brevin Sloup. All three were instrumental in steering the Bulldogs to a tournament title and seven-straight wins entering Thursday’s game. They steadied the program through rocky times and were productive in the process. Shuck accumulated 1,574 career points and Sloup totaled 1,246 (including eight on Thursday).
Concordia played in the last ever NAIA Division II men’s basketball game. The NAIA will combine the two divisions as play moves forward in 2020-21. No one seemed to know exactly how to react after the NAIA made the decision to cancel the remainder of the tournament. Following play on Thursday, coaches, players and fans milled about trying to make sense of what is going on in the world.
Said Limback, “It was hard (to focus on basketball). You have to make sure you always wash your hands and you can’t shower in certain places and all these things. The importance of the game took over once it got started. These guys made the national tournament I hope that’s what they celebrate. I feel awful for these other teams that couldn’t finish their seasons.”