SEWARD, Neb. – A senior class led by Tanner Shuck and Brevin Sloup will play on. The Concordia University men’s basketball program is on its way to the GPAC postseason championship game for the first time since 2005. In a semifinal matchup with bracket buster and eighth-seeded Hastings, Shuck helped lead the way to a 71-61 victory inside Walz Arena in a rough-and-tumble rivalry battle on Saturday (Feb. 29).
Head coach Ben Limback’s squad also defeated Northwestern at home in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs (23-9) hope they have moved a step closer to earning a national tournament bid.
“Defensively they did a great job and really pressured us,” Limback said. “They were physical and bothered us, but our guys were gutsy and they played through a lot of that contact. To be able to get into the bonus and make those big plays there at the end was huge.”
After upsetting top-seeded Morningside in the quarters, the Broncos (16-16) may have felt like they were due to knock off Concordia. But Shuck and the fourth-seeded Bulldogs still have Hastings’ number. The series win streak moved to nine in what was a decidedly bruising encounter. The big difference came at the 3-point arc where Concordia went 13-for-34 and the Broncos went just 3-for-17.
Hastings managed to take a 48-46 lead midway through the second half before the Bulldogs responded with a pivotal 8-0 run capped by a trey apiece from Shuck and Sam Scarpelli. For the second time in four days, Carter Kent supplied a 3-point dagger – this one making it a 61-51 Concordia lead in the final few minutes. In the closing 30 seconds, Sloup went 6-for-6 from the foul line to salt it away.
“One of the goals we look for at the start of the year is to try to win the GPAC championship,” Shuck said. “We’re not quite there yet. We have one more game. We’re going to enjoy this tonight and then tomorrow we’ll be getting ready to go to the Corn Palace.”
Limback would have liked to have used Shuck for more than 22 minutes on Saturday, but foul trouble relegated him to the bench for a large chunk of the second half. On a day when both teams struggled to shoot better than 40 percent from the field, Shuck’s 5-for-6 marksmanship from long range came in handy. Shuck finished with a team high 17 points. He was followed in the scoring column by Sloup (13) and Carter Kent (11 points, six assists and six rebounds).
On the other side, senior Bart Hiscock was tough to handle as usual. He notched 22 points and 10 rebounds. However, Concordia’s perimeter defense was up to the task. Hastings point guard Mason Hiemstra (16 points) went 5-for-19 from the floor with two of his makes coming on layups when the contest had already been decided late in the game.
Off the bench for the Bulldogs, Ryan Holt chipped in with eight points and seven rebounds. Gage Smith added five points and eight rebounds. Meanwhile Justin Wiersema just missed double figures while putting up eight points, five rebounds and three steals.
In order to guarantee a spot in the national tournament, Concordia will have to win at 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan (23-8), the GPAC’s No. 2 seed. The GPAC championship game will take place in Mitchell, S.D., at 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday (March 3).
Said Limback, “These guys worked really hard to get here. To be in the championship will be a fun time.”
The 2004-05 Bulldogs won the GPAC tournament title game at home over the University of Sioux Falls. The current Concordia team’s 23 wins are the most since that ’04-05 campaign. Now it’s back to the Palace. Said Shuck, “My freshman year we got a big win in overtime there and the place was rocking. I love playing in places like that. It’s going to be fun.”