Concordia Lutheran's boys basketball team feeds off contradiction.
The Cadets are alternately patient and hurried, under-control and over-aggressive, conservative and risky. It's hard to pigeonhole what type of team Concordia has, other than an undefeated one.
The Cadets beat Wayne 61-45 on Thursday in the Summit Athletic Conference holiday tournament semifinals at Wayne. Concordia (9-0) will play two-time defending tourney champ Northrop (8-1) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday for the championship.
Concordia's split-personality team, particularly on offense – they'll push the fast break and stroke the three-pointers and they'll hold the ball for a high percentage shot – gives them a shot at unseating the Bruins as the SAC's holiday champs.
“I think the key to Concordia's team is just playing together,” Concordia senior Thomas Starks said. “We've had a lot of tough competition this year. The SAC is a very tough conference. At Concordia, we're not individuals, we play together. We do everything together. Practice hard, work hard, play hard. It's just the unity within the team.”
That atmosphere is commendable, but Concordia's contradiction in styles and its ability to switch gears at any time makes it a difficult team to defend.
The Cadets built a 13-point halftime lead on Wayne, a team that definitely likes to push it, and every time the Generals cut into that lead in the last two quarters, Concordia found a way to strike back. There was big man Brian Gremaux hitting a cutting D.J. McCall. There was Starks with a three-pointer at the top of the key. There was Austin Harris with a baseline three.
Later, it was Marq Rogers with a steal and transition bucket. There was Rogers in transition finding McCall, who quickly dished the ball back off to Starks for the basket. Ryan Gross at the point had his moments, too.
McCall led the team with 18 points, Starks scored 15 and Gross had 10. Rogers scored eight, but it seemed like more because he's always in the middle of the everything.
“Ryan does such a great job in knowing when to go and when to slow,” Concordia coach Josh Eggold said. “When he gives the nod ahead and hits Marq and D.J. in transition, they push it at that time.
“I think that's really hard to guard for an opponent,” Eggold said. “Are they a transition team? Sometimes they are, but sometimes they're a half-court team. I think we do a nice job blending those together.”
Concordia's 9-0 start is the best since the Cadets started 8-1 (building to 16-1) in 1998-99. Eggold's teams have won 16 games in each of the past two seasons, so they're in line to top his best mark this season.
Eggold points to team unity as the key to the early season success this year.
“These guys really care about each other,” Eggold said. “That's the No.1 thing evident in us when we play. It's unselfishness. I know it's a cliché, but they really have put the team before their individual accolades.”
Starks said the team is looking forward to playing in the title game. The SAC championship game usually has a full house of fans on Saturday night.
“Northrop has won it the past two years and they have a name for themselves,” Starks said. “They're a very good team. This is the first time we'll be seeing them this year. We have to play together as a team, work together, work hard. It should be an exciting time.”
Work and excitement – there's another seeming contradiction that fits Concordia well.
Concordia Lutheran 61, Wayne 45
Concordia: D.J. McCall 18, Ryan Gross 10, Marq Rogers 8, Thomas Starks 15, Brian Gremaux 4, Austin Harris 3, Brandon Webb 1, Reggie Tharp 2.
Wayne: Justin Mitchell 11, Marlon Fincher 8, Levi Mitchell 14, Jescus Mitchell 6, Darrius Ellison 2, Alex Catalan 4.