Nebraska Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team will be without all-conference sophomore guard Nate Schimonitz until after Christmas, but the Prairie Wolves’ 4-0 start shows there still can be plenty of holiday cheer between now and then.
NWU followed up a 63-point win Friday night over Iowa Wesleyan with a 95-78 home victory Saturday against Bethany Lutheran in the second day of the Snyder Classic.
The 6-foot-4 Schimonitz went down with a knee injury in the last five seconds of the Wolves’ exhibition game against Peru State on Nov. 13. Schimonitz, who led NWU in scoring (19.1 points per game) and assists (four per game) last season, was backing up to get out of the way of a Peru State player driving for a basket in NWU’s 103-96 win when his knee buckled.
The former Super-Stater from Creighton Prep had surgery on his torn meniscus last week with an expected four- to six-week recovery period.
Schimonitz might be injured, but Cooper Cook is healthy. His game-high 29 points led four Wolves in double figures. The 6-5 junior, last season’s Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the year, was 9-of-13 from the field overall, 7-of-10 from beyond the three-point line and 4-of-4 at the free-throw line.
“Having Nate out, that’s a huge loss,” said Cook, who was named the Snyder Classic MVP for the second straight year. “He’s an incredible point guard with the ability to penetrate and dish or score. It’s taking a team effort, all of us together, to replace what he brings to the court.”
Cook netted 12 points during a 16-1 run that opened up a 21-6 lead less than five minutes into the game. He ended the spree with his own personal nine-point run — a four-point play after being fouled on a three-point basket, followed by a pair of free throws and then another three-pointer.
“My shot felt good tonight,” Cook said. “I was able to spot up and my teammates found me.”
Bethany (1-4) cut the deficit to 45-43 with seven straight points to start the second half. A three-point play by Cook on NWU’s next possession stemmed the rally, and the Prairie Wolves eventually pulled away from there.
The Wolves made 13 of 35 three-pointers, but it was three straight backdoor layups off assists from Dylan Dirks, Deion Wells-Ross and Nate Bahe that pushed the lead to 84-71 with 4:23 left. Later, Cook found Ryan Garver for a basket inside with a pass from the high post.
Wells-Ross finished with a double-double, 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, while Dirks also scored 15 points off the bench. Garver, a junior from Lincoln Northeast, added 10.
NWU was 34-of-66 from the field (51 percent) and 21-of-31 from inside the three-point line.
“We have an experienced team and everyone is on the same page,” NWU coach Dale Wellman said. “They’re all good passers and they all can shoot, so when it comes to crunch time, I think we can get a good look.”
The Vikings also had four players in double figures, led by 20 points from 6-6 sophomore forward Trenton Krueger and 18 by 6-2 guard Brady Rose. They were just over 50 percent from the field (28-of-55) while outrebounding NWU 37-36, statistics that Wellman wasn’t pleased with.
“If we want to get to the next level, we have to improve defensively,” Wellman said. “Our defense has been up and down, particularly in the half-court. We can’t afford to just rely on our offense to outscore teams. We need to be able to defend and rebound.”
Wesleyan, the defending regular-season IIAC champions, begins conference play at home Saturday with a 4 p.m. tipoff against Simpson.