Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball coach Dale Wellman called his top-ranked Prairie Wolves’ 78-45 win over Coe on Wednesday night at Snyder Arena “the perfect Senior Night.”
Except for the fact he emerged from the Prairie Wolves locker room soaked after getting doused by his teammates following their final regular-season home game.
“I’m not a senior, I don’t know why I got it,” Wellman said laughing after the defending national champions and three-time reigning conference regular-season champions improved to 23-1 overall and 14-1 in the American Rivers Conference.
“But that’s OK, I’ll take it.”
He’ll also take NWU’s defensive effort on a night that the Wolves shot 44.8 percent from the field, well off the 54 percent they shoot for the season. Coe’s 45 points is the fewest NWU has allowed in Wellman’s five seasons at the school and the lowest in six years.
They held the Kohawks (14-10, 8-7) to 32 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers, a total that included 13 steals. The Wolves also forced three Coe shot clock violations.
And it all started with the all-senior lineup that Wellman started — All-Americans Ryan Garver and Cooper Cook as well as Wahoo’s Jake Scheef, Beatrice’s Ty Bardsley and Patrick Sullivan from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Scheef, Bardsley and Sullivan combined for four three-pointers during their split time in the game — the first three minutes and a nearly four-minute stretch late in the second half.
That group shut out Coe the first three minutes before junior starters Nate Schimonitz, Jack Hiller and Clay Reimers entered. Coe was 0-of-8 from the field and had six turnovers before hitting its first field goal — a three-pointer by Zach Schlabaugh with 12:03 left in the first half which made it 15-5 NWU.
“We put a 2-3 zone in specifically for those seniors and they were excited to get out there and play it,” Wellman said. “They got after it and really set the tone for us defensively the rest of the game.
“To be able to win by the margin we did and only shoot 44 percent is a testament to how well we played defensively,” Wellman added. “Coe shot 62 percent against us in the second half the first time we played, so I was pleased with how our guys executed the adjustments we made.”
Cook, the 6-foot-5 forward from Overland Park, Kansas, had a game-high 15 points and 14 rebounds to go with three blocked shots. Garver, the 6-3 former Lincoln Northeast all-stater, had another full stat line with 12 points, eight assists, five steals and five rebounds.
The 6-6 Hiller, who missed over a month with a broken foot, hit 5 of 6 shots and finished with 12 points, while Reimers, a 6-7 junior from Lincoln East, netted 10.
“Jack is getting back to where he was before the injury,” Wellman said. “He’s always been a defensive presence with his length on the wing of the 3-2 zone, but now he’s getting the rust knocked off his offensive game. We were hoping he’d be 100 percent by conference tournament time, and he’s right on track for that.”
NWU finishes regular-season play at Luther on Saturday. The Wolves have a first-round bye in the ARC Tournament next week and will host a semifinal on Thursday.