An opportunity arose and Jeffrey Schuch took advantage of it.
The Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball team was rocked by suspensions and injuries last week, while also losing at No. 1 Morningside College on Jan. 4. The Tigers were without Tyson Smiley (dismissed from the university), Nick Harden (suspended two games) and Tristan Teichmeier (torn ACL) for their game at No. 19 Northwestern College on Wednesday.
They reshuffled their starting lineup and played just six players in the game, with Schuch being the lone reserve seeing minutes. The reserve forward seized the opportunity, finishing with a career-high 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the field in a career-high 24 minutes. The No. 7 Tigers edged the Red Raiders, 73-69.
“Everything he did in that game, we’ve seen before,” DWU coach Matt Wilber said. “... It was one of those when buy-in meets opportunity, you have a chance. He had a really special game.”
The Dell Rapids product entered the contest having played in just nine games this season and his previous high in minutes was six against Morningside College. He’s now averaging 6.8 minutes and 3.3 points per game, while playing mostly late in games and also developing with the junior varsity program.
But despite the little amount of varsity playing time, Wilber always said Schuch stayed locked-in.
“He is one of those guys that epitomizes everything you want your student-athletes to be,” Wilber added. “He’s just a team guy and a culture guy.”
Schuch said after Teichmeier tore his ACL against Morningside College, he knew an opportunity to play extended minutes was possible against Northwestern College. But that didn’t change his approach.
“It was kind of the same and just be ready,” the soft-spoken Schuch said. “Be confident when I get the chance and do what I do.”
He also gained confidence from his teammates as they rallied around the sophomore forward.
“We are very tight, especially after the week we had last week,” Schuch said. “But we really came together and fought as a team there on Wednesday night.”
Schuch’s game was also complemented by a few other noteworthy performances. All-American Ty Hoglund hurt his ankle/foot late in the first half and continued to play, finishing with seven points in 39 minutes.
Sophomore wings -- Koln Oppold and Mason Larson -- started and they also answered the bell. Oppold logged 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes. Larson posted eight rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. Senior center Sam McCloud added 18 points, 11 rebounds and drilled two late 3-pointers to help seal the all-around team victory.
“It was fun,” Schuch added. “We got some really great players in this program and it’s nice to see. It’s just like if one guy is struggling, everyone has his back and we can take some blows and keep going.”
The Tigers (15-3, 7-2 GPAC) will now prep for Dordt College (14-5, 6-4 GPAC) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Corn Palace. Wilber anticipates a different game plan for the Defenders than used against the Red Raiders, while the next player to shine could be different.
But Schuch’s approach will remain the same and he’ll be ready for another opportunity.
“I just have to keep coming to practice every day and keep working hard and try to get better together as a team,” Schuch said.
Notes: The status of Hoglund’s injury is still being evaluated. … Harden will be available to play against Dordt after serving his two-game suspension.