LINCOLN, Neb. – Top-seeded Nebraska Wesleyan jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead then withstood a fierce comeback by 4th-seed Simpson College to hold on for a 85-80 victory in the semifinals of the 2019 American Rivers Conference Postseason Tournament.
NWU advances to the A-R-C Championship game which is scheduled for Saturday at 7 pm in Snyder Arena. The Prairie Wolves face the winner of Loras-Dubuque.
The Prairie Wolves were on fire from 3-point range in the first half making eight of their first eleven and finishing 13-19 on 3-pointers in the opening twenty minutes. NWU led 56-36 at the break and looked poised to cruise into the final.
Simpson had other plans as they outscored the Prairie Wolves by 15 points in the second half and closed the gap to within two points with under four minutes to play. As hot as NWU was in the first half, they were equally as cold in the second half from long range. NWU missed their first eight 3-pointers in the second half, but got a big one when they needed it.
With 3:52 remaining in the game, Adam Reiter made field goal for Simpson to cut the lead to 72-70. Desperately needing a basket, Nate Bahe converted a layup in the paint to make it a two possession game. A turnover on the other end gave NWU back the ball and Bahe ended the 3-point drought by draining one from deep to make it 77-70.
The Storm missed a pair of 3-pointers on their end of the court and NWU took advantage with Jack Hillerpump faking to let his defender go by, then stepping up to nail a 3-pointer making it a 10 point game on a quick 8-0 run.
A 3-pointer from Kyle Wagner and three straight missed free throws by the Prairie Wolves kept Simpson in the game. Bahe went 1-2 at the line with 13 seconds left to make it 81-76. Simpson missed a 3-pointer, but Tyler Stumbo pulled in the offensive rebound and made the putback while getting fouled. He missed the free throw and Cooper Cook pulled down the strong defensive rebound before being fouled with five seconds left. Cook made both free throws making it a two possession game and sealing the victory.
Simpson shot 49.2 percent overall with NWU hitting 49.1 percent in the game. It marked only the second time all season that NWU had a lower shooting percentage than their opponent and the only time they came away winning when that occurred.
Five players scored in double figures for the Prairie Wolves who played without leading scorer Nate Schimonitz who was sidelined with sickness.
Jack Hiller led the way with 19 points hitting 5-10 from 3-point range. Nate Bahe, starting in place of Schimonitz, scored 17 points with six rebounds in the game. Ryan Garver just missed a double-double with 14 points and nine assists to go along with six steals. Clay Reimers added 12 points and eight rebounds, while Cordell Gillingham came off the bench to score 10 points.
Simpson was led by Conor Riordan who scored 21 points making five 3-pointers. The Storm end the year with a 16-10 overall record.
NWU is now 25-1 overall and will host their second straight conference tournament championship game playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA III Tournament.