awesome (adj.) - inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear; causing or inducing awe.Early February always has been the most challenging part of the season for me as an occasional chronicler of Our Game. The freshness of a new season and the intrigue of certain non-conference matchups have long since passed, the conference races are often still taking shape for the culmination of the regular season, and the do-or-die nature of the postseason tournaments seem far off into the future. Plus, here in Indiana, Old Man Winter is always ready to create some problems this time of year. So, a night after getting home rather late from a St. Bonaventure-Butler game that I struggled to document in an interesting manner, I was scheduled to make a trip across town for the South Dakota State-IPFW contest. Frankly, I wasn't feeling much enthusiasm to attend that game.
Game #9-377: South Dakota State Jackrabbits at IPFW MastodonsFebruary 7, 2013 7:00 pm
Gates Sports Center
While I was strongly encouraged here to always go see Nate Wolters whenever he visited within a reasonable distance, I'd already seen him play a few weeks before in one blowout over an Indiana-based Summit League team, and didn't envision the hometown Mastodons providing the Jackrabbits with much resistance to prevent another one-sided result. Besides, in my previous viewing of Wolters and South Dakota State, I honestly wasn't all that impressed. Sure, he played a good overall game that caused me to write some nice things about him, but he only made 2-of-8 shots from the field, and I didn't quite see what all of the "NBA prospect" fuss was all about. As morning turned into afternoon, and as I endured a few irritations at the office, I started to think that I'd probably have at least a few opportunities over the next few years to watch Nate Wolters in Fort Wayne in NBA D-League action. Maybe I'd be better off to just go home and relax for the evening.
Ultimately, late in the afternoon, I decided I should go to the game. Being a little uncertain about the format of TMMX and my potential role therein, I determined that I probably shouldn't miss any opportunities to go see a game and write about it. Besides, I've never had a bit of interest in attending an NBA D-League game, and really didn't think Wolters would be enough to entice me to go in the future. Plus, Frank Gaines (the defending Summit League Co-Player of the Week) and his teammates had provided me with some fun and excitement in the past. Who knew? By going to the game, maybe something interesting might happen.
Upon entering the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, there was not a high level of excitement surrounding this game. I came into the arena with about a dozen others, all of whom headed directly to the ticket booth for the Fort Wayne Boat Show, which was opening that night in the Coliseum's Expo Center. The young woman at the ticket booth I approached asked me twice to confirm that I really wanted a ticket to the basketball game. Ugh. Sometimes, I struggle to believe that this city is really located in Indiana.
Once in the gym area, the enthusiasm was still basically non-existent. About ten minutes before the opening tip, IPFW wasn't even on the floor, and there wasn't much activity to the visitors' warm-up drills.
Soon, the Jackrabbits headed back to the locker room, and I found myself entertained with the unique thrill of court sweeping races! Hopefully, this wouldn't be the highlight of the night...
A couple of things became readily apparent as the game began. First, the Mastodons were ready to play from the opening tip, and were fairly effective on both ends of the floor; their offense was sharp with good cutting and screening, and their defense was aggressive - they showed much more energy than when I saw them play in December. Second, Wolters was much more active offensively than I saw in their game against IUPUI, appearing more eager to take the shot than to find the open teammate.
IPFW held a small lead over most of the first ten minutes, then went on a 15-7 run keyed by long-range jump shots from Luis Jacobo and Gaines, stretching the lead to 25-15. The margin remained between seven and ten points for the remainder of the first half, until Gaines hit a long three-pointer with 13 seconds to play, giving IPFW a 37-26 lead. Wolters connected from the top of the key just before the buzzer, sending the teams to the locker room with the Mastodons leading 37-29. I was pleased that my hoped-for scenario of a Wolters-Gaines shootout seemed to be a reality - Gaines was 5-10 from the field with four three-pointers for 14 points, while Wolters was 5-12 from the field with three three-pointers (and two free throws) for 15 points. With the Mastodons holding the advantage, I was hoping that this compelling individual battle would continue throughout the second half.
Indeed, Wolters came out firing, taking six of their first eight shots in the second half, converting on four of the six for nine more points, but the Mastodons nearly matched that pace, maintaining a 44-38 lead with 15:30 to go. By the time of the first media timeout of the half, at the 13:23 mark, IPFW still held a 46-40 lead. While I'm not much of a Tweeter while attending games, I felt compelled to fire off the following Tweet at that time:
"I sense Wolters won't let his team lose, but they're still down by six. Wolters with 24. He's really good, but IPFW hanging tough."
During this stretch of play, Wolters actually went over five minutes of the second half going scoreless, and taking just one shot. However, senior forward Tony Fiegen scored three baskets to keep the Jackrabbits within range of the lead. With just over 11:00 to play, junior guard Chad White knocked down a three-pointer, his only basket of the game, the lead was down to three, and The Nate Wolters Show was about to begin.
After a three-point miss from Gaines, Wolters got the ball and drove aggressively to the basket, converting the layup and cutting the lead to one. After an exchange of turnovers, Gaines made a beautiful back cut, getting a pass from Joe Edwards and laying it in. Wolters responded with a long superhoop to tie the score. A string of turnovers and missed shots filled the next few minutes, before the Mastodons sandwiched a couple of baskets around a Wolters layin. Wolters drew a foul on Pierre Bland at the 5:42 mark, leading to a timeout, and I went back to Twitter.
"Wolters going to the line with chance to tie. Under 6:00 to go, he has 31. IPFW 56-54."
From that point, the action was fast-paced and highly efficient. Wolters made both free throws, then Gaines responded with a driving layup. Wolters drew a foul on Isaiah McCray, then made both free throws again. IPFW's Michael Kibiloski hit a huge three-pointer, which Wolters matched on the other end. Jacobo drew a foul on Chad White, which led us into the final media timeout.
"Under 4:00, tied at 61. Wolters with 38 - they're going to him every time. It's working."
Jacobo converted both free throws, and Wolters responded by driving straight to the basket for a layup. By this time, he seemed to be so dominant and aggressive at driving to the basket, I thought IPFW Coach Tony Jasick needed to have his defenders playing back a step or two to take away Wolters' driving ability and force him to beat them from the perimeter. After all, he was "only" 6-11 from three-point range at that point.
Gaines scored on a driving layup to give IPFW a two-point lead, then fouled Jackrabbits guard Brayden Carlson. When Carlson converted his first free throw, that broke an 8 minute, 16 point period in which only Wolters scored for South Dakota State. During that time, only once (Fiegen) did another Jackrabbit even attempt a shot. Carlson's second attempt rimmed out, and Mario Hines grabbed the rebound for IPFW.
Jacobo attempted a shot from long range for the home team which missed, but Hines was in position for a crucial tip-in. The Mastodons' resulting three-point lead was almost immediately erased when Wolters pulled up from the left wing and drilled a superhoop. Gaines then drew a foul on SDSU's White. He went to the line, and made the first, but missed the second, and you could sense that Wolters was aware of his opportunity.
Coming off a ball screen that left him momentarily open by just a sliver, Wolters drilled another superhoop that gave SDSU its first lead since the early moments of the game. Gaines tried to answer with a drive to the basket, but instead drew a foul of SDSU's Jordan Dykstra. With 1:27 to go, Gaines made the first, but again misfired on the second, missing a chance to tie the game. After a missed front-end of the 1-and-1 by Fiegen, Gaines had a chance to give his team the lead, but lost the ball. To nobody's surprise, Wolters was prepared to deliver the dagger. Off a ball screen, he took one dribble to the left, and drilled yet another superhoop. Basically knowing that the ball would be going to him, I focused the camera on Wolters on this possession and snapped it as he took the shot - you can't even see the ball here, but I had no doubt it would be going in. So much for the strategy of forcing him to beat them from the perimeter!
Kibiloski missed on a semi-desperation three, and Wolters grabbed the rebound and was fouled. After converting two more free tosses, South Dakota State took a timeout amidst significant chatter of disbelief from the departing hometown fans.
"Cold blooded! Wolters with 51! Wow."
At that moment, Wolters had scored 27 of his team's most recent 28 points. While it would seem as if he would have been a real ballhog during that stretch of play, I really didn't sense that. He was simply his team's best scoring option who consistently made plays to help them win. Eventually, with a four-point deficit and five seconds to go, IPFW fouled Wolters one final time, allowing him to put the icing on the cake.
The horn sounded after Gaines missed on a three-point attempt, and the Jackrabbits escaped with an 80-74 victory. The astounding second-half totals read: Wolters 38, IPFW 37, Rest of Jackrabbits 13. Wolters scored 24 points in the last 6:22 of play.
"SDSU 80 IPFW 74. Wolters with 53. I'm blown away! Awesome."
Yes indeed. Awesome. Not awesome in the "OMG! Your new car is totally awesome!" kind of awesome, but awesome in the dictionary definition kind of awesome. As I watched Wolters over those final six minutes of play, my thinking evolved from merely impressed over to a sense of overwhelming reverence and admiration (and a bit of fear on behalf of the Mastodons) for what he was accomplishing. In my many years of following basketball, I don't recall ever seeing any individual take control of any game so completely to singlehandedly will his team to a victory. Awesome. As the teams left the court, all I could do was stand and applaud.
When I got to the car, I turned on the radio to the IPFW post-game show, just to hear how they described what I just saw. The announcers were beginning their interview of Coach Jasick, who dejectedly expressed that his team played extremely hard and executed their game plan to perfection. I didn't quite understand that comment, but he proceeded to explain that their goal had been "to keep everyone else from scoring." Well, I guess I'll give them an A+ for execution, and an F for strategy.
There aren't many chances left to see this kid play. If you get the opportunity, please go. Oh, and if by chance you're planning to wait and catch him playing in the D-League next year, you might get an F for that strategy too.
I'm glad I went to this game.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 80, at IPFW 74
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 19-6 (10-2) -- N. Wolters 17-28 10-11 53; B. Carlson 1-2 1-2 3; J. Dykstra 1-4 0-0 2; T. Fiegen 4-9 3-6 11; C. White 1-5 1-2 4; T. Prince 1-5 3-3 5; M. Heemstra 1-2 0-0 2; Z. Horstman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 18-24 80.
IPFW 10-15 (3-8) -- F. Gaines 11-22 2-4 29; L. Jacobo 5-11 3-3 14; M. Hines 3-5 0-0 6; J. Edwards 3-5 0-0 7; P. Bland 2-3 2-2 6; J. Reed 1-5 2-4 4; I. McCray 1-1 0-2 2; M. Kibiloski 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 28-57 9-15 74.
Three-point goals: SDST 10-19 (N. Wolters 9-14; C. White 1-4; J. Dykstra 0-1), IPFW 9-20 (B. Gaines 5-8; L. Jacobo 1-7; M. Kibiloski 2-4; J. Edwards 1-1); Rebounds: SDST 25 (T. Fiegen 6), IPFW 33 (M. Hines 11); Assists: SDST 10 (N. Wolters 3), IPFW 14 (P. Bland 5); Total Fouls -- SDST 16, IPFW 20; Fouled Out: SDST-None; IPFW-None.
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