MITCHELL, S.D. – A focused and determined Concordia University men’s basketball team found euphoria on Tuesday (March 3) night, almost exactly 15 years to the date since the program had achieved such heights. The GPAC tournament championship trophy is making a return to Seward. The Bulldogs built a 17-point lead in the first half and held on to defeat 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan, 68-66, at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.
Forget about being on the bubble. Head coach Ben Limback’s squad has earned an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II national tournament. For now, Concordia (24-9) deserves to bask in this moment.
“Incredible atmosphere, incredible game,” Limback said. “It was two hard-nosed teams going at it. We were hot from three in that first half and were able to build a cushion – and we needed it. I thought we did a great job defensively. Tanner (Shuck) hit some big shots. This place was literally shaking when Brevin (Sloup) was shooting free throws at the end of the game and he calmly hits both of them … this was an amazing night none of us will ever forget.”
The path to a GPAC tournament championship included postseason wins over Northwestern (quarterfinals) and Hastings (semifinals) at home. It set up a title matchup with a Dakota Wesleyan squad that had handed the Bulldogs two ugly losses during the regular season. Limback sensed his team was loose. He was right. Concordia went 7-for-14 from beyond the arc in the opening half.
It just wasn’t going to be that easy in a hostile environment against a team with a megastar senior in Ty Hoglund. He even had a shot to win it at the buzzer when the Bulldogs turned it over. Thankfully, the half-court heave hit the back iron and rimmed out. Hogluand finished with 27 points, but he was just 8-for-25 from the floor.
On the road, Concordia showed the toughness not to waver when things got hairy. At the 6:44 mark of the second half, the Bulldogs saw their lead cut to just one point (53-52). Shuck followed with two cold-blooded treys to spur a crucial 8-0 run. Sloup then scored Concordia’s final seven points, including two on free throws in the closing seconds. The Bulldogs have made their return to glory.
Said Limback, “My phone has been blowing up. There’s a lot of pride in this program. I’ve heard from alums, teammates and from Coach (Grant) Schmidt too. The ’05 team has been texting. Any time this happens it’s fun to share it with the parents, the families and our alums.”
This was an evening for the starters to empty the tank. Shuck put on an impressive display in going 5-for-8 from 3-point range while racking up a team high 17 points. Three other starters reached double figures: Sloup (14), Carter Kent (13) and Justin Wiersema (12). Chuol Biel also made his presence felt defensively in blocking a pair of shots while also grabbing six rebounds.
Dakota Wesleyan (23-9) reached the GPAC final for the first time since 2010. The Tigers are a pretty safe bet for an at-large national tournament selection considering their lofty national ranking in the most recent poll. At least on this night, Dakota Wesleyan got outplayed on its home court. It shot 37.7 percent from the field compared to 44.8 percent shooting by Concordia. Incredibly, the Bulldogs’ three opponents in the GPAC tournament went a combined 9-for-57 from 3-point range.
Concordia seemed to relish the underdog role on the road. Said Limback, “The first two games (in the GPAC tournament) we were a little nervous. We hadn’t been in that situation of being the favored team at home. Coming into this game I could feel how loose we were. We have amazing leadership in the locker room. We’re thrilled to still be playing.”
The national tournament bracket will be released on Wednesday (March 4) by the NAIA. The Bulldogs will make their first nationals appearance since 2005 and 10th all-time for the program.