ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Nebraska Wesleyan outscored Aurora University by 17 points in the second half as the Prairie Wolves punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 82-61 victory in the second round of the NCAA III Men's Basketball National Tournament on Saturday night (March 3) at the WU Fieldhouse in St. Louis, Mo.
NWU tied a school record with their 26th win of the season, equaling the total of 1985-86 team that advanced to the NCAA III Final Four. The Prairie Wolves now advance to the sectionals where they will face the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Friday night (March 9) at a site that will be determined on Sunday.
The Prairie Wolves started the game off slow but shot 47.5 percent from the field in the second half after hitting only 30.8 percent in the opening half of the game. Neither team shot the ball well in the first half as Aurora made just 30 percent from the field.
Nebraska Wesleyan took a 28-24 lead into the halftime break with seven of their eight made field goals coming from 3-point range. The Prairie Wolves were 7-17 from deep in the opening frame, but made just 1-9 on two point attempts.
In the second half, Aurora took a 33-32 lead on a 3-pointer from Max Vickers at the 16:47 mark of the half.
From there, senior Deion Wells-Ross made his presence known making back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Prairie Wolves back ahead. Cooper Cook added a basket off an assist from Wells-Ross, then the senior forward made an old fashioned 3-point play giving NWU a 10-point advantage in a span of two minutes.
Aurora was able to get back within eight points, but NWU quickly used a 7-0 run to get back ahead by 15 points. The score got to 58-47 after a Spartan 3-pointer but they would go nearly five minutes without a point and the Prairie Wolves took advantage. NWU scored 13 unanswered points during that stretch to get by 26 points and they would cruise the rest of the way allowing all 15 players to get in the game.
NWU was the more aggressive team in the second half, especially on the glass where the Prairie Wolves held a distinct advantage. The Prairie Wolves had a +11 advantage in rebounding with four players pulling down at least seven boards.
Four players scored in double figures for Nebraska Wesleyan as they ended the game with 13 made 3-pointers.
Cooper Cook led the way with 17 points, making three 3-pointers and pulling down seven rebounds with a game-high three blocked shots. Nate Schimonitz scored 16 points, getting 13 in the second half as he was sidelined majority of the first half with two fouls. He also pulled down eight rebounds with four assists.
Jack Hiiler scored 12 points and had eight rebounds, while Nate Bahe came off the bench to score 10. Deion Wells-Ross just missed double figures with nine points, all in the second half. Ryan Garver had another solid all-around performance with six points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Aurora was only 8-37 from 3-point range and they couldn't figure out the NWU zone defense. Marcus Myers scored 17 points before fouling out and Max Vickers had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Nebraska Wesleyan is now 26-3 overall and they will face a Wisconsin-Platteville team that is 24-4 overall and ranked No. 9 in this week's top 25 poll.