SALINA, Kan. – Staring at a 10-point second half deficit, a sophomore-laden Concordia University men’s basketball team got an immediate dose of adversity on the road. Despite a cold shooting first half, the Bulldogs snatched a 75-72 win at Kansas Wesleyan University in a wire-to-wire season opener for both squads in Salina, Kan., on Monday evening. Concordia sophomore point guard Jake Hornick dropped in a career high 23 points for the victors.
This is exactly the type of start fifth-year head coach Ben Limback would have hoped for after saying goodbye to three starters from last season’s 21-win team.
“I was proud of our guys for hanging in there,” said Limback in a postgame interview with 104.9 Max Country. “Certainly, offensively we didn’t shoot well tonight. In the first half we got sped up a little bit and were rushing through some things. You expect that early in the season. Second half, I thought we did better. We got the ball inside more.”
The Bulldogs fell behind 57-47 with under 10 minutes remaining in a sluggish opening to the second half. That’s when the likes of Hornick and fellow sophomore Clay Reimers emerged with big performances. Reimers tallied nine of his 21 points over the final eight minutes. Meanwhile, Hornick helped seal the game at the free throw line down the stretch.
A quick 8-0 spurt that turned a 66-59 deficit into a 67-66 Bulldog lead proved absolutely critical. That run ended when junior Chris Johnstone beat the shot clock buzzer with a long triple. Next trip down the court, sophomore Brevin Sloup buried a trey deep on the left wing for a 72-68 lead with less than 30 ticks showing on the clock. Allen Rashun of Kansas Wesleyan followed with a three of his own, but the Coyotes mustered just a single point in the waning seconds.
“We had to regroup,” Limback said of the slow start after halftime. “We came out of the half and didn’t execute what we had talked about. We wanted to go inside more to Clay and Kyle (Pierce) because we felt like they had some good moments in the first half. That’s going to be a learning process for these guys.
“I really loved how Jake Hornick handled consistent full-court pressure and got us into our offense. He made a lot of things happen for us.”
The lion’s share of the offensive production came from three players. Hornick, Reimers and Pierce (16 points) combined for 60 of the team’s 75 points. Concordia went 3-for-19 from 3-point range before Johnstone and Sloup sunk its final two attempts from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs shot 44.3 percent (27-for-61) from the field compared to 47.5 percent (29-for-61) by Kansas Wesleyan.
Hornick also added seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in 37 minutes of action. His play in the backcourt will be a key moving forward. Said Limback, “He’s a guy who has really stepped up this preseason. He’s really becoming a leader. He’s just a competitor. He wants to win.”
Kansas Wesleyan finished at 13-17 overall last season but has a whole new look in 2017-18 with a roster heavy on transfers. Cloud Community College transfer Jordan McNelly enjoyed a big debut for the Coyotes, going for game highs of 25 points and eight rebounds. Though McNelly and company outrebounded Concordia 39-28, their biggest problem was a minus-eight (18-11) turnover margin.
The Bulldogs will make their home debut this weekend as part of the 18th annual Cattle Classic on the Concordia University campus. As part of Friday’s action, the Bulldogs will take on Mount Mercy University (Iowa), a member of the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. CT.