By Jeff Kolpack
The North Dakota State College of Science men’s basketball team practically starts shooting 3-point field goals the second it steps off the bus. The Wildcats lead the country in that category and if their postseason success is to continue, they probably won’t be changing their ways.
They’ve made 353 of the treys in 32 games, an average of 11 per game. The top marksman is 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Julian Walters, who is 107 of 206 for a whopping 52 percent.
“He’s a guy who is shooting the ball at an incredible level,” said Science head coach Stu Engen. “We shoot a lot of 3s—we fire them up.”
There will be more of that Thursday in Ottumwa, Iowa, where the Wildcats play at Indian Hills Community College in a district championship game that doesn’t have much meaning.
Why? Because both have already qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., because it’s a rotational year where both teams that reach the super regional are automatically qualified for the national. So, in essence, Science and Indian Hills are playing for seedings.
“The game is a formality,” Engen said.
That formality won’t be easy. Indian Hills is ranked sixth in the latest NJCAA Division I poll with a 27-3 record. The Wildcats, 26-7, are unranked, but they’ve also won 15 straight after a brief three-game losing streak lapse right after the New Year.
One of the problems: A snowstorm stranded the Science players from Wisconsin and delayed their return to Wahpeton.
“They were not able to get back in time and their conditioning wasn’t real good,” Engen said.
Science also found a successful player rotation, Engen said, a system where three of the top five scorers come off the bench.
“We start more of a defensive lineup and bring some firepower off the bench,” he said.
Guard James Bateman III and Walters, two starters, average 19.2 and 19.1 points respectively. Walters was the league most valuable player and Bateman III was runner up in the voting.
Walters had some Division II offers coming out of high school in Madison, Wis., but opted for Science to try and get to a higher level. Engen said some low- to mid-major Division I schools have expressed interest. The 6-1 Bateman III, from Milwaukee, is a straight-A student who is eligible to leave after his freshman season if the right offer comes along, Engen said.
The national tourney is scheduled for March 14-19.
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