A hot second half helped the Raiders knock off 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan at home last Wednesday, Jan. 13, and a weekend battle at Doane University came down to the wire where the Raiders prevailed, tying their longest win streak, three, of the season.
At home versus Dakota Wesleyan, steady scorers Trent Hilbrands and Alex Van Kalsbeek led the team with 19 points apiece; Craig Sterk contributed 17 points in his second straight double-double outing. Looking to avenge their earlier loss in Mitchell, the Raiders jumped out to a double-digit lead midway through the first half thanks to a 12-0 run and held a slight advantage heading into halftime (45-43). While first half shooting was good, there was certainly no lid on the hoop in the second half as NW missed only 7 shots in the period, chalking up a mark of 70% from the field while holding the Tigers to just 30 second half points. The 86-73 win for NW was the second straight GPAC loss for DWU, who were previously undefeated in conference play.
NW traveled to Doane on Saturday and picked up immediately where they left off, with Sterk and Van Kalsbeek scoring the first 13 points of the game and the lead ballooning to 22-4 only seven minutes in. NW’s big men continued to dominate, and Hilbrands hopped on the scoring train as well with all three scoring over 20 and accounting for 69 of the team’s 79 total points.
“Playing with bigs that can score is huge and when you have two of them, that makes the game so much easier,” Hilbrands said. “Alex and Craig do a great job of relieving pressure off of the guards and it is nice that they can score. They are great and deserve all the credit that they get and more. Our team would not be the same without them.”
The big men continued to play their big roles down the stretch, none bigger than Van Kalsbeek’s game-winning three-point play with just over two seconds remaining, as the Raiders escaped with a 79-77 victory.
It was a gritty win by a Raiders team that has looked different without senior Keegan Van Egdom in the lineup for the past month. Hilbrands noted the loss of his fellow sharpshooter has been tough for the team, crediting Van Egdom’s admirable work ethic and extreme consistency.
“It has been an adjustment without him out there, but we have had guys step up in the meantime” Trent said, praising teammates Matt Onken, Noah Slagter, and Grant Demeulenaere for stepping into larger roles as the Raiders find their rhythm heading into the final month of the regular season.