Not too much mystery.
Nate Wolters played and South Dakota State led from start to finish, withstanding a late comeback attempt for a 100-82 victory over UNO before a season-high 2,656 Thursday at the Ralston Arena.
The Jackrabbits (22-9, 13-3 Summit League) clinched a share of the Summit League regular-season title and the top seed for the conference tournament.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a really good team, they were playing for first place, and they acted like it,” UNO forward Alex Welhouse said.
Tony Fiegen and Jordan Dykstra each posted up and scored over his defender on South Dakota State’s first two possessions, then Chad White hit a 3-pointer for a quick 7-0 lead.
“We got off to a great start,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. “We wanted to go inside and get Tony going and get Jordan going. I don’t worry too much about Nate because I know he’s going to get going.”
The Jackrabbits led 51-31 at halftime and stretched their second-half lead to 82-57 on White’s sixth 3, but Justin Simmons scored 11 points as UNO used an 18-2 run to get within 84-75 on a Caleb Steffensmeier jumper with 3:32 left.
Simmons led UNO with 29 points, his 11th 20-point game of the season.
The Mavs (11-19, 6-9 and tied for fifth in the Summit) were within 90-80 and had the ball after Alex Phillips hit two free throws following a flagrant foul with 1:22 to go, but Steffensmeier left a 3-pointer short and South Dakota State closed it out from the free-throw line.
“We fought,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “We didn’t give in when maybe we could have. We made it interesting for a while and kept everyone around. But we need that for 40 (minutes).”
Wolters had missed practice this week after injuring a hip Saturday at Murray State, but he ran the Jackrabbits’ offense with precision, working around screens to find open shooters on the perimeter or cutting down the lane.
“No matter how you play it, you’re going to give up something,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “Like (former NBA coach) Chuck Daly said, there’s nine ways to guard a ball screen, and none of them are any good.”
Averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists, Wolters finished with 18, seven and 10.
“He wasn’t 100 percent, but I’d love to not be 100 percent and go 18, 10 and seven,” Nagy said. “He’s an incredible player. ... They did a pretty good job of making him a focal point, and he did a good job of finding people.”
Wolters had plenty of help.
White hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range while getting 23 points and nine boards. Dykstra had 14 points and 17 rebounds. Fiegen had 14 points and eight rebounds. Brayden Carlson scored 13 and Marcus Heemstra had 10 off the bench.
“He’s going to get to the paint, so you have to help,” Simmons said of UNO’s attempts to stop Wolters, led primarily by Phillips and Steffensmeier. “When you help, there go the shooters. You can’t let him go to the cup for an easy layup, so he kicks it out to shooters.”
The Jackrabbits gradually built their first-half lead from 18-13 to 43-23 on a Carlson 3. A 10-0 run had taken the lead from 26-19 to 36-19.
“Our young guys can learn from that,” Hansen said. “They came in playing for first place, and I thought they came in with a championship mentality. They played with championship execution and championship physicality.”
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