No Wolters, No worries

On the same Friday night that Nate Wolters’ 14 points helped lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their first win of the season, the Jackrabbits men’s basketball team kicked off their season with a 96-73 win in an exhibitioner against the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers.

            Although not close for most of the second half, Dakota Wesleyan fought hard in the first half and surprised the Jacks by making nine of their first eighteen three-point attempts en route to shooting 44% on 27 three-point attempts in the first half. Part of the reason for such lofty shot totals can be attributed to the Jacks stifling defense inside the paint and great advantage in size.

            “It’s part of how they are going to call the game,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “You have to take care of the paint first. There’s going to be more 3-point shots that go up. But also, I think for Dakota [Wesleyan], in their defense, that’s the only way they could stay in the game, was to get those up. We knew that. And you’ve got to give them credit. In the first half they made a lot of them.”

            The Tigers led by as many as nine before the Jackrabbits reclaimed the lead at the end of the half. Senior point guard Brayden Carlson led the charge, scoring 20 points in the first half. In the second half, the Jacks’ intensity seemed to rise and the Tigers went cold, shooting only 25% from three point territory in the second half.

            “The players knew,” Nagy said. “It’s not like you got to go in there. They already know. We’ve got four guys who have been here a long time and some other very experienced players and so they know. That stuff was talked about before the coaches ever got there, and they knew we were a little bit lackluster, took it a little too lightly. … That’s one thing that we talked about before the game, just respecting these guys. They’re college basketball players and we need to play with that kind of respect. It didn’t feel like we did in the first half. I think in the second half we turned it up a little bit.”

            As their lead grew, the Jackrabbits began to get more players involved in the game. As a result, the starters didn’t put up the numbers they could have. Still, Carlson finished with 23 points, three rebounds, and three assists. In just seventeen minutes of play, forward Marcus Heemstra scored 11 points, pulled down seven rebounds, and blocked a shot. Forward Jordan Dykstra scored 12 points and came up with four rebounds, a steal, and an assist. Guard Chad White scored 15 with three rebounds and three assists. And forward Cody Larson finished with seven points, seven rebounds, and a blocked shot.

            Conventional wisdom would suggest that when a team loses two of its top three scorers from the year before, they might struggle to replace them. But, the Jacks have players ready to step up and feature four seniors in their starting lineup, including pre-season first team all Summit Leaguer, Dykstra.

            “I was never concerned about the offense,” Nagy said. “We’re going to be different. We’re going to go inside more, and we did that tonight. We’re going to be bigger than most teams we play and we’re going to pound it. But I never really had a concern. I knew that it would be different, but I knew that we would score.”

            Although, they were picked to finish third in the Summit League this year, behind North Dakota State and the University of Denver, Nagy thinks his team and players have been overlooked and will certainly contend for a second consecutive birth in the NCAA tournament.

            “Chad and Brayden didn’t get any mention at all.” Nagy said. “And I think that they probably should have. And I think Cody is kind of a wild card in that deal.”

            Cody Larson is a newcomer this year. A native of South Dakota, he just transferred back home for his junior season after playing for the University of Florida.

            The Jackrabbits have shown they can play offense and should hold height advantages in most of the games they play, thanks to a starting five standing: 6’4”, 6’6”, 6’8”, 6’9”, and 6’9” respectively. As the team goes forward to play the University of San Diego, Friday, and the rest of the teams on the schedule this season, Nagy knows what his team has to do.

            “For us it’s just going to be defense, defense, defense,” Nagy said. “I mean, we didn’t hardly do anything offensively tonight and we scored 96 points. We need to defend, and we need to shoot the ball well from the free throw line.”