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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 12 2013

Schnepf: NBA scouts watch Wolters burn Bison one last time

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Back in 2009 about this time, the Sioux Falls Arena was half full. And some of the fans were half-educated when it came to Summit League basketball.

“Go back to California, Oakland,” yelled one inebriated North Dakota State fan, whose Bison were playing Oakland University of Michigan in the Summit League championship game.

Tuesday night, you wouldn’t have been able to hear that fan yell. You couldn’t hear yourself think – not with 6,000 screaming South Dakota State fans.

And all those standing ovations – 25 by my count – were a result in one way or the other of a senior named Nate Wolters. His 27 points, six assists, four steals, six rebounds with only two turnovers and one bloody finger lifted his Jackrabbits to a 73-67 Summit League championship win over NDSU.

In addition to learning where Oakland is from, NDSU fans have for the last four years come to realize that Wolters is pretty darn good. That’s why 10 NBA scouts were in attendance, prompting one of them to say afterwards: “He’s going to be on my email list.”

It prompted all of those Jackrabbits fans to repeatedly chant: “NBA, NBA, NBA,” or “MVP, MVP, MVP.”

“He’s a hell of a player,” said Bison junior Taylor Braun, who put on a show of his own with 23 acrobatic points. “It seemed like he made play after play. He’s a senior. He’s an All-American. That’s something you expect him to do.”

Here’s what he did to send SDSU to its second straight Big Dance and to earn his second straight MVP award:

• He stripped Braun and went in for a layup to give SDSU a 45-34 lead. After stripping the ball from Marshall Bjorklund, he hit a tough fadeaway to make it 52-42.

Known for his offense, Wolters showed he could play defense, asking his head coach Scott Nagy to guard Braun down the stretch.

“Those last five minutes, he got after Taylor Braun, and Braun is a tremendous basketball player,” Nagy said. “Nate is a great defensive player when he wants to be.”

• After NDSU fought back – like the 2009 Bison did to win a Summit title – cutting the lead to 54-52 with 7:20 remaining, Wolters drained a 25-foot 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer. “That’s insane, that’s just downright insane,” said one fan in the front row.

“That’s the one that killed us,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “Tip your cap to Nate. I’m done playing him, but it was a great experience playing him.”

So while Wolters will cap off a career with another chance to showcase his talent in The Dance, the Bison finish a 24-9 season knowing they have all but senior backup Nate Zastrow back for next year.

They scratched and clawed after falling behind as many as 12 points. Reminiscent of the 2009 Bison who trailed Oakland by 10 points with seven minutes remaining, this year’s young Bison would not quit.

When asked about next year, Braun simply said:

“We are going to win it next year.”

When asked about Braun’s confidence, Phillips said: “You would be crazy not to think like he’s thinking right now. Taylor Braun is one of the best players among all the mid-majors. I thought at times he was pretty much unguardable out there at times.”

Yes, he was.

Unfortunately for the Bison, so was Nate Wolters – for one last time.


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com