Nebraska Wesleyan’s trademark is full-court pressure defense and an up-tempo offense featuring three-point shots.
The Prairie Wolves, however, used a slightly different path to finally gain control and pull away to a 107-80 men’s college basketball win over former Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Doane on Monday night at Snyder Arena.
A stingy half-court defense that produced five Tiger turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half powered a 16-2 run that expanded a 43-40 halftime advantage to 59-42 after a steal, layup and the and-1 by Cooper Cook.
Cook, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, had seven points in the run, one of them coming off a post-up inside. Nate Bahe, Ryan Garver and Jack Hiller also scored from point-blank range to start the second half.
The interior scoring helped Wesleyan (6-0) shoot 60 percent from the field in the second half and finish 38-of-72 for the game (52 percent). The Wolves still got off their share of three-point bombs, hitting 11-of-26.
Hiller, a 6-6 sophomore guard, led five NWU (6-0) players in double-figures with 24 points, while Deion Wells-Ross and Garver added 19 and 18, respectively, and Bahe chipped in 13.
NWU had 54 points in the paint and another 34 off turnovers.
“We had a lot bigger guards, so we made the adjustment at half to post up and go inside, something we’ve been doing all year,” said Hiller, a sophomore from Olathe, Kansas. “I love posting up. I used to be a smaller guard when I was in high school, so I like to use my size whenever I can. I love to shoot the three and post up inside.”
Doane (4-7) had its way early with the Prairie Wolves in the 199th meeting between the schools after they took a one-year break when NWU joined the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the 2016-17 season.
With four freshmen in the starting line-up, including 6-10 Lincoln Northeast graduate Trace Tupper, Doane led 17-6 on the road just over four minutes into the contest after a three-point play by Anthony Laravie. Nick Kornieck, a 6-7 freshman from Las Vegas, Nevada, topped all scorers with 29 points.
“They were killing us with high-low and ball screens early,” NWU coach Dale Wellman said. “We got out of the press and tried to set the tone early in the second half with some solid half-court defense, and I thought we met that challenge.”
The defensive adjustment limited Doane to 40 percent shooting in the second half and just 2-of-9 from beyond the three-point line. The Tigers finished with 23 turnovers in the contest.
“When you’re the youngest team in America like we are, there’s going to be some ups and downs with four freshmen who have never been through this together,” Doane coach Ian McKeithan said. “You can see flashes of the talent and ability our young guys have, it’s just a matter of sustaining that effort for 40 minutes.”
NWU moves back to IIAC play at Central on Wednesday, the team that ended Wesleyan’s season last winter in an upset win over the Wolves on their home floor in the conference tournament.
“We’ll definitely be fired up for that one,” Hiller said. “We want a little revenge for ending our season last year.”