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No. 25 Dakota Wesleyan races past Waldorf in season opener

Waldorf Warriors LogoBy: Waldorf Sports Information Director

MITCHELL, South Dakota – Dakota Wesleyan University turned it on in the first half to pull away for a 93-64 win over the Waldorf University men’s basketball team during Friday’s season opener.

The Tigers (1-0) entered the contest ranked No. 25 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II preseason poll. Going inside early, the Warriors (0-1) kept pace until Dakota Wesleyan found its rhythm.

Shooting 17-of-34 (50 percent) from the field and 7-of-20 (35 percent) from 3-point range in the opening half, the Tigers built a 10-point cushion less than nine minutes into the game.

Waldorf hit 41.4 percent of its first-half shots, going 12-of-29 from the field and coming up empty on all eight of its perimeter attempts. Dakota Wesleyan led by as many as 25 points while building a 45-25 halftime advantage.

“We got going inside early on, but then couldn’t knock down some shots from outside,” Waldorf coach Nigel Jenkins said. “They came out, made a couple of shots, and we didn’t respond. They capitalized and took off on us.”

Michael Morgan led the Warriors with 15 points, a team-high eight rebounds and handed out two assists. The 6-foot-4 senior forward from Charlotte, Tennessee shot 58.3 percent, connecting on 7-of-12 attempts from the floor.

Junior Leland March notched 14 points, shooting 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) from the field in his Waldorf debut. Kaden Verdin provided 12 points and five rebounds as the 6-foot-9 junior center from Atwater, Califonia dropped in 6-of-10 (60 percent) shots.

Together, Morgan and Verdin delivered down low for the Warriors.

“Michael and Kaden played pretty well for us overall,” Jenkins said.

Waldorf freshman Myles Simmons scored eight points. Junior June Prowell turned in seven points, four assists and two steals. Freshman Gabriel Munoz finished with four points, while junior Eric English closed out the night with two points and four boards. Junior Chris Ayers and freshman Brady Kuchinka contributed one point each.

Three freshmen saw the floor for Waldorf and are quickly learning what it takes to compete at the next level.

“Our young players have to get adjusted to college basketball pretty fast,” Jenkins said. “We’re kind of throwing them to the wolves, and they have to respond. We’ll get better, and they’ll get better as well.”

Kellen Barden led the charge for the Tigers, pouring in a game-high 23 points and pulling down seven rebounds off the bench. Barden had the hot hand, shooting 9-of-12 (75 percent) from the floor and drilling a pair of perimeter shots.

Dakota Wesleyan came away with a 39-15 advantage in bench scoring.

“Their bench was huge for them,” Jenkins said. “We’ve just got to get back to the basics and get back to practice on Monday.”

Trae Vandeberg delivered 16 points, seven boards and two assists for the Tigers. Nate Davis chipped in 14 points, going 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) from the field, and nailed 4-of-5 (80 percent) shots from downtown. Ty Hoglund scored 11 points, and Jason Spicer contributed 10 points.

Hoglund and Colin Kramer ripped down nine rebounds apiece to lift Dakota Wesleyan to a 38-32 advantage on the boards. Despite the Tigers owning a 13-12 edge on the offensive boards, the Warriors held a 16-15 advantage in second-chance points.

Solid shooting propelled the Dakota Wesleyan, which went 35-of-67 (52.2 percent) from the floor and 9-of-27 (33.3 percent) behind the arc. The Tigers also outscored Waldorf in the paint by a 50-40 margin. The Warriors shot 38.7 percent in the loss, finishing 24-of-62 from the floor and 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) from 3-point range.

Dakota Wesleyan converted on 93.3 percent of its trips to the free-throw line, sinking 14-of-15 attempts. Waldorf went 15-of-19 (78.9 percent) at the charity stripe and displayed a stronger attack after being held to just one free-throw attempt in the first half.

“In the second half, we were a lot better and a little bit more aggressive,” Jenkins said. “We were able to get to the foul line.”

The Warriors committed 10 turnovers, and the Tigers turned the ball over six times. Dakota Wesleyan capitalized with a 12-3 advantage in points off turnovers.

Waldorf pulled to within 16 points on two occasions during the second half. The Tigers, who led by as many 35 points in the second half, outscored the Warriors 48-39 during the final 20 minutes.

Waldorf returns to action in next weekend’s Concordia University Tournament, playing two opponents from the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) at Seward, Nebraska. The Warriors face Concordia (1-0) on Friday at 8 p.m.

Concordia is led by 6-foot-8 center Chandler Folkerts, who averaged 19.6 points and 8.5 rebounds while earning All-American honorable mention recognition last season.

“They’ll be at home, so they’ll be comfortable in their own gym,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to have to come out and play well to win. Beating a team on their home court is not easy to do.”

Waldorf battles No. 21 Midland (0-0) in Saturday’s 12 p.m. tipoff.

“Midland is a very tough, hard-nosed group,” Jenkins said. “They’re really athletic, and they get after you on the defensive end.”

Opening the season with a stacked nonconference schedule, the Warriors are embracing the challenges as they prepare to make a push in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA).

“It’s going to be a tough tournament,” Jenkins said. “It’s very, very good competition right away for us to start the season, and it’ll pay off for us in the long run.”