Defense guiding Tigers through 4-1 start: DWU holding opponents to 63 points per game
Dakota Wesleyan University allowed 41 points in the first half against Hastings College on Saturday.
Then, the Tigers got defensive.
DWU trailed 41-32 at halftime, but held the Broncos to 29 points in the second half and picked up a 74-70 win at the Corn Palace. The Broncos are averaging 92 points per game and have four games with 90 or more points this season. Hastings College made just nine field goals on 33 attempts in the second half on Saturday.
“We gave up 41 points and our guys felt terrible about 41,” DWU coach Matt Wilber said. “We gave up 41 points and then we held them to 29 in the second half. I credit our guys for coming out and making a stand and making a statement defensively.”
The defensive statements have been plenty for the Tigers (4-1, 3-0 GPAC). The Tigers are 14th nationally in scoring defense per game (63), which is also best in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
Dordt College has scored the most points (80) against DWU this season, but that came in a double-overtime victory for the Tigers.
“What I think has been a big key for us has been our defense,” Wilber said. “We’ve gotten some really key stops down the stretch in our wins and gotten some stops and rebounds.”
This comes after graduating defensive stalwarts Collin Kramer and Sam McCloud, too. DWU’s defensive prowess has been keyed by versatile and bouncy forward Mason Larson. The 6-foot-7 Larson has recorded a team-high 10 blocked shots. He’s also collected a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game, while guard Koln Oppold registers 7.2 boards a contest. Jeffrey Schuch added 5.8 rebounds per game.
Reserve guard Bradley Dean has been a pest in the perimeter and has a team-high seven steals.
The Tigers have needed all the blocks, rebounds and steals earlier in the season. Three of DWU’s five games have been decided by four points or less.
“Those are possession basketball games,” Wilber said. “We could have won the Valley City game (a 66-63 defeat). We could be undefeated here, but these things go one way or the other.”
Offensively, the Tigers have had a different-leading scorer in all five games this season and six players average between 12.2 points and 9.6 points per game.
Sophomore guard and Emery native Sawyer Schultz averages team-highs in points per game (12.2) and 3-pointers (14). Senior guard Nick Harden (12 ppg) is rounding into form after an Achilles injury last season and he also missed a pair of games with a hamstring injury. He logged 21 points against Dordt.
Schuch (11.8), Larson (11.2), Oppold (10.8) and Dean (9.6) have also taken turns shouldering the offensive load at times.
“We’ve made enough plays offensively and I still think we are a much better offensive team,” Wilber said. “I think we will continue to get better because we’ve got guys that are bought into that.”
The Tigers will play at Dickinson State on Friday in a non-conference contest.