Nate Wolters is not exactly a national secret, but thanks to a couple of early losses in Summit League play and a disappointing performance in the non-conference, Wolters hasn’t exactly exploded onto the national scene.
He’s been good, but no better than last year. He’s buried on a team that doesn’t play on national television and is going to need to beat out a pair of good teams — North Dakota State and Western Illinois — for a chance to make a return to the NCAA tournament.
And on Thursday, he put together the biggest individual offensive explosion of the season, scoring 38 of his 53 in the second half as he carried the Jackrabbits back from an 11 point deficit to an 80-74 win.
Those 53 points were a school record. They were also the most points scored by anyone in a game this season; Oakland’s Travis Bader went for 47 points against IUPUI last month. It’s the first time that a college basketball player has gone for 50 points since Kevin Murphy of Tennessee Tech went for 50 points in a 98-80 win over SIU-Edwardsville last January. The last time someone scored more than 53 points? January 2009, when Jodie Meeks had 54 points in a win over Tennessee.
Only five times since the 1997-1998 season has someone scored more point than Wolters did on Thursday night. It happened three times in 2009. One was Meeks. North Dakota State’s Ben Woodside scored 60 points in a three-overtime loss to Stephen F. Austin and Utah Valley State’s Ryan Toolson went for 63 points in a four-overtime loss to Chicago State. Eddie House had 61 in an overtime win against Cal in 2000 and UMKC’s Michael Watson had 54 points in an overtime win over Oral Roberts.
When the deficit ballooned to 11 two minutes into the second half, Wolters said he felt as though it was up to him to shoulder a greater scoring load and try to bring his team back. Utilizing mostly high ball screens, he scored back-to-back layups and a 3-pointer to cut the lead to six, took a brief break, then continued his barrage, scoring on five straight possessions, each time to tie the score.
Finally, with 1:47 remaining and South Dakota State down two, Wolters hit a deep three to give the Jackrabbits their first lead since 9-8 early in the first half. He followed that up with another 3-pointer before icing the game and surpassing the 50-point mark with four free throws in the final minute.
Perhaps most impressive is that Wolters, in talking with Jeff Eisenberg, admits that a) he never scored more than 36 points at the collegiate level and never even broke 40 in high school, and b) that he isn’t concerned with the points nearly as much as he is excited about the fact that SDSU won.
The Jackrabbits moved into a tie with Western Illinois for first place in the Summit, moving a game in front of North Dakota State.
The Bison lost to Oakland.
SDSU gets Oakland on Saturday, pitting the Bader and Wolters — the nation’s two most prestigious binge-scorers — against each other.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.