When Nate Wolters is playing within a 150-mile radius of your home, you drop everything and go.
Game #9-330: South Dakota State Jackrabbits at IUPUI JaguarsJanuary 19, 2013 3:00 pm
- Daniel Spewak
After confirming that "The Jungle," IUPUI's on-campus home for basketball and volleyball was 115 miles away from my home, I did indeed drop everything and go. As jungles are concerned, this one was small and rather sparsely populated. With a seating capacity of only 1,215, I was concerned that tickets might be difficult to obtain with South Dakota State visiting. Such fears were unwarranted.
1,215. Yes, this is the seating capacity for the home gym of an NCAA Division I basketball program in the heart of Indiana. To put this in some context, Union High School of Modoc, one of the state's smallest public high schools located about 60 miles to the east of Indianapolis, has seating capacity in its home gym of 1,963, and that's at a high school with a four-grade enrollment of 148. 506. That was the announced attendance for this contest, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, with a relatively high profile star for an NCAA tournament contender paying a visit . I don't know how many people live within 150 miles of the IUPUI campus, but I do know there are nearly 2 million in the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area, and nearly all of them missed out on this chance to see Nate Wolters in person.
As a matter of fact, this game was only the second-best attended event in its own building. Right across the hall from the entrance to The Jungle, I found the world famous Indiana University Natatorium, a 4,700 seat swimming megaplex, which was hosting the weekend-long Carmel Swim Club Winter Invitational. I was able to witness some of the swimmers getting in some warmup laps before that evening's heats.
Back to basketball, this has been a tough season for the Jaguars' second-year coach Todd Howard. Injuries have cost them their top returning scorer from last season as well as a key reserve, and their entire freshmen class has been redshirted. On top of that, this year's leading scorer, John Hart, a transfer from Purdue, was recently ruled ineligible. All of this leaves Howard with just seven scholarship players, so it's hardly a surprise to see that they've plummeted to the bottom of the Summit League standings.
Aside from the chance to get to see Wolters play, this game also had me on the search for a Jungle Hat. My odds of spotting such a treasure were greatly reduced due to a warm front that pushed the local temperature into the low 50s, but I was pleased to find a young man sporting an off-brand Jungle Hat replica in spite of the balmy outdoor conditions.
On the court, this one wasn't much of a contest. The home team started fairly well, setting a fast pace and trailing only 10-8 at the first media timeout. At that point, the Jackrabbits seized control, going on a 17-3 run, and removing any drama from the ultimate outcome. The visitors pulled away to a 52-28 halftime lead, and used their bench liberally throughout the second half to cruise to an 80-65 victory, which was nowhere near as competitive as the final score would indicate.
On paper, it was not an impressive performance from Nate Wolters. His 12 points represented a season low, he made only two-of-eight field-goal attempts, and he only reached double figures because of a fairly late second-half parade to the foul line. However, by watching him in person throughout the entire game, I found myself as impressed as my reporting counterparts, Spewak and Raymond Curren, had been in their previous recaps.
While he didn't convert with a high success rate, Wolters did not take a bad shot during the game. While running the offense, he kept his head up at all times and stayed alert of the positioning of every other player on the court. When he drove the ball into the lane, he consistently found an open teammate with an accurate pass; at times, there were multiple open teammates, and Wolters seemed able to find the one most open. If not for a handful of missed open shots by fellow Jackrabbits, Wolters could have easily ended up with double-digit assists. Though slight in stature, Wolters positioned himself very effectively for rebounding opportunities. He defended his opponents, usually IUPUI guards Greg Rice and Sean Esposito, to take away drives to their right, and never once got exploited by the opening created on their left. He dove after loose balls, tipped errant passes to teammates, and even blocked a shot. When the final horn sounded, Wolters' stat line read 12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and just 1 turnover in 34 minutes of action. His team didn't need an offensive explosion from him, and so he saved that for another day.
So, after watching this what do I make of Nate Wolters? He wasn't the best player I saw that week, and didn't even give the best performance I saw that day. Yet I left The Jungle convinced that I watched a very good player who was worth dropping everything to go see. Good teams tend to include players like Nate Wolters, and it is no coincidence that his presence makes a squad like South Dakota State into a good team. He simply makes his teammates into better players.
In a couple of weeks, Nate Wolters will be within 16 miles of my home, and will be featured in an epic head-to-head duel with local legend Frank Gaines. Once again, I expect that I'll drop everything and go. I doubt that I'll be disappointed to do so.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 80, at IUPUI 65
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 15-6 (6-2) -- L. Rose 4-7 5-6 14; N. Wolters 2-8 7-8 12; T. Fiegen 3-7 4-4 10; B. Carlson 6-10 3-4 18; J. Dykstra 4-9 2-3 11; C. White 4-9 1-1 10; T. Prince 1-2 2-6 5; J. Bittle 3-4 0-0 6; Z. Horstman 0-2 2-2 2; M. Heemstra 2-2 2-2 6; C. Jacobsen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 23-30 80.
IUPUI 6-16 (1-7) -- D. Gibbs 7-11 0-2 14; S. Esposito 1-10 0-1 2; G. Rice 6-16 4-7 17; L. Gaines 1-3 1-3 3; P. Hubert 5-12 0-0 12; M. Patton 8-13 1-2 17; N. Kitcoff 0-1 0-0 0; J. Shanklin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-66 6-15 65.
Three-point goals: SDST 7-19 (N. Wolters 1-5; B. Carlson 3-6; C. White 1-2; J. Dykstra 1-4; T. Prince 1-2), IUPUI 3-13 (G. Rice 1-2; S. Esposito 0-4; N. Kitcoff 0-1; P. Hubert 2-6); Rebounds: SDST 34 (B. Carlson 7), IUPUI 39 (M. Patton 11); Assists: SDST 16 (N. Wolters 7), IUPUI 10 (G. Rice 5); Total Fouls -- SDST 17, IUPUI 21; Fouled Out: SDST-M. Heemstra; IUPUI-None.