By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
The Bethany Lutheran men’s basketball team won just two games during the nonconference portion of this season’s schedule, but that didn’t bother BLC too much.
It was a tough slate of games for the Vikings, one that they hope sets them up for another strong run in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, which they won last season.
“Nonconference was pretty tough, really tough, actually,” senior guard Deon Wright said. “We had good chances to win most of those games.
“But it was an eye-opener. We could see where we were and where we needed to be.”
On Tuesday at the BLC gym, the Vikings opened UMAC play against rival Martin Luther College and put that earlier experience to use with an 85-49 victory.
Wright, who was celebrating his birthday, scored 14 points with five steals, three assists and three rebounds.
Three other players reached double-figure scoring totals for Bethany: Garrett Benson (13), Gavin Kroehler (12) and Derek Peterson (11). Peterson also had five rebounds and five assists.
“Our nonconference schedule did help us so much,” Bethany coach David Balza said, referring to several games against the Minnesota and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conferences. “It showed us our deficiencies. We got to spend the last three weeks shoring those up and watching film.”
The Vikings put Tuesday’s game away in the first half, outscoring the Knights 47-20. They compiled eight of their 15 steals in the first 20 minutes. Benson also finished with five steals, all in the first half.
“All week, coach has been drilling into us … deflections, deflections, deflections,” Wright said. “Deflections lead to steals, and steals lead to baskets.”
A 13-0 run midway through the half but the Vikings up 24-9. When the defense loosened up, Balza called a quick timeout, and Bethany came out of it to see Wright score nine straight points for his team, including a 3-pointer and four free throws for a 35-13 lead.
“He came in with the idea that, ‘It’s my birthday,’” Balza said. “He was our best defender.”
A pair of late 3-pointers by Benson led to the 27-point halftime advantage.
Bethany was 11 of 29 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range for the game, making six in the first half. The Vikings forced 20 turnovers while committing just eight.
The Knights were led by Galen Holzhueter, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. Justin Eternick scored 10 points and had seven rebounds.
Bethany (3-8, 1-0 in UMAC) plays again Friday at North Central. Martin Luther (1-11, 0-1) plays Friday at Northwestern.