The 143 points and 70 percent shooting from the field were nice, but those weren’t the statistics that Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball coach Dale Wellman found the most satisfying in the season-opener.
“Forty-eight assists and 18 turnovers,” Wellman said after his defending NCAA Division III national champion and top-ranked Prairie Wolves sprinted past Grinnell 143-90 before a crowd of 858 at Snyder Arena on Thursday night.
Impressive numbers against a team that pressures and traps defensively all over the court in every situation.
“That’s what my eyes went to directly after the game. I was pleased,” Wellman said. “In a game like that, you have to take care of the basketball and make the right passes. We told them we needed to beat them with singles, we didn’t need any home run passes. Make the smart pass, and pass with a purpose.”
That purpose often resulted in layups at the other end. Wesleyan had 106 points in the paint and five players who scored in double figures.
NWU ended up one point short of matching the school record for points in a game (144). A 5-of-13 performance from the free-throw line prevented them from eclipsing that mark.
But that was about the only negative as the Wolves won their 14th straight game, dominating from the start. A 23-3 run over a span of seven minutes midway through the first half gave the hosts a 39-16 lead with 9:37 left before intermission.
Ryan Garver, a senior from Lincoln Northeast and one of four starters back from last year’s title squad, led the way with 22 points, 11 assists and four steals. Junior Nate Bahe came off the bench and scored 21 points in 17 minutes with 10-of-10 shooting from the field — eight layups, a dunk and a three-pointer.
Nate Schimonitz chipped in 15 points and eight assists.
Bahe’s perfect night was part of a 64-of-92 shooting performance for the Wolves.
“It’s not like playing anyone else, they way they sub five, five out every few minutes and trap all over the floor,” Bahe said. “You have to stay fresh and limit your turnovers. We knew if we did that, we’d get layups at the other end.”
Bahe was whistled for a technical foul on the dunk in the first half that he threw down with a Grinnell defender contesting it, a basket that made it 49-24 with 6:53 showing.
“I got out in front of the pack, Garver found me and I decided to throw one down,” said the 6-2 Bahe. “I just turned and looked at him (the Grinnell defender) and the ref said I couldn’t do that. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Grinnell’s Vinny Curta, a 6-5 senior who led the nation in scoring last year averaging 32 points per game, netted a game-high 23. But he had just two points in the first 12:30 of the game and didn’t get his first field goal until the 7:17 mark of the first half.
“We did a great job shutting him down early,” Bahe said. “We face-guarded, tried to limit his touches and keep it out of his hands. If we did that and forced the other four guys to shoot, we were in pretty good shape.”
Defensively, Wesleyan limited the Pioneers to 32 percent shooting (29-of-91), forced 23 turnovers and outrebounded the guests 62-40.