Jack Hiller was in street clothes on the bench with his broken foot in a boot, but the No. 1-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball team never broke stride.
With Nate Bahe in the starting lineup and Wesleyan unveiling a full-court press for the first time this season in the first half, the Prairie Wolves sprinted to a 31-point halftime lead on their way to a 103-63 conquest of Colorado College on Saturday afternoon at Snyder Arena.
Bahe, a 6-foot-2 junior, usually is the Wolves’ sixth man, but he’s also accustomed to the starting role after taking Nate Schimonitz’s place in the lineup for the first 10 games last season while Schimonitz was out with a knee injury.
Hiller, a 6-6 junior who’s averaging 13.3 points per game, will have his foot X-rayed again in three weeks. NWU coach Dale Wellman hopes to have him back when the Prairie Wolves resume American Rivers Conference play in early January.
Bahe responded with a near-perfect first half, as his 11 points and four assists helped Wesleyan (9-0, winners of 22 straight) take a 65-34 halftime margin. He was 4-of-4 from the field overall, 2-of-2 from beyond the three-point line and 1-of-1 at the free-throw line.
Bahe, one of five Wolves to finish in double figures, did not score in the second half but added two more assists to his stat line. NWU had 26 assists in the game, led by Schimonitz’s seven to go with his team-high 19 points.
“It doesn’t really matter, whatever I can do to help the team,” Bahe said when asked whether he likes starting or coming off the bench more. “It doesn’t matter if I start or come off the bench, my mindset is the same — just do what I can in the minutes I play to help the team win.”
Bahe’s perfect shooting was part of NWU’s 25-of-39 performance from the field in the first half as the Prairie Wolves scored 25 fast-break points and 27 off Colorado College turnovers forced by the full-court pressure.
In their last outing, NWU faced an 11-point first-half deficit at Dubuque before recovering for a 92-78 victory.
“We emphasized a sense of urgency in the first half,” Wellman said. “The last couple games, we’ve let the other teams hit some shots early and get comfortable. One of the things we wanted to do was have a different start than we’ve had, and that’s one of the reasons we decided to go with the press today, to jump-start our defense a little bit.”
Wesleyan forced 26 Tiger turnovers, 16 in the first half. NWU had 21 steals, including eight by Cooper Cook, who also knocked down 18 points in 22 minutes. Ryan Garver had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Clay Reimers just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine boards.
Hiller shoots 47 percent from beyond the three-point line, but his length out front on NWU’s 3-2 zone defense might be just as valuable as his outside marksmanship.
Bahe’s versatility offensively and defensively helps minimize Hiller’s loss.
“Nate runs 1 through 5 on offense, there’s times where he brings the ball up the court and there’s times when we post him up inside, and he can play multiple positions in our press and our zone,” Wellman said. “I like bringing him off the bench in that sixth man role because no matter who gets in foul trouble or is playing poorly, he can play that position.”
CooXooEii Black, a 6-7 junior, led the Tigers (4-5) with 17 points.
Wesleyan has eight days off before returning to action for a pair of games in Portland, Oregon, against George Fox on Dec. 16 and Linfield on Dec. 17. NWU’s next home game is Jan. 5 against Loras.