BLUFFTON – Bluffton University used its quickness on defense and precision perimeter shooting on offense Wednesday night to stop Kalamazoo, 68-54, and remain unbeaten to open the season at Sommer Center.
The Beavers improve to 5-0 and match their best start of the season since 2011-12 when Bluffton opened with an identical mark. Kalamazoo fell to 2-3 on the year.
Bluffton head coach Guy Neal said the sensational start by the Beavers is a combination of hard work that began in the offseason and it is paying off with this undefeated start.
“Our guys have done a pretty good job,” Neal said. “They really worked hard in the fall period in conditioning and lifting to set the tone for once practice started. They’ve done a lot of the things we’ve asked from them and what is good about it from a coaching standpoint is to see them work hard and work together and then reap the benefits of it.”
Senior guard Austin Rohde led the Beaver scoring parade with 24 points. Carey product Jared Wentling added 15 who also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
The Hornets, who’s roster boast six players 6-5 and over looked to utilize their height to control the tempo of the game and the Beavers’ speed. Early on he strategy paid off. Center Josh Miller, who stands 6-9, put in six points as Kalamazoo jumped out to an 11-2 lead at 16:25 mark
After a timeout Neal made the necessary adjustment in hopes of nullifying the height advantage and it paid off as the the Beavers stepped up its defensive pressure on the post position.
“I think at times we played pretty good team post defense,” Neal said. “I thought the four guys guarding their big guys worked pretty hard and did a pretty good job on them not making catches. But once they got it I thought we did a good job of doubling down on them and getting them to pick it up and throw it back out. We got a few turnovers out of it.”
By containing the Hornets’ big men, the Beavers offense began to click as well when they also made some small adjustments offensively reversing the ball or kicking the ball out for short jumpers.
The Beavers went on a quick 7-0 spurt and took the lead, 14-12, with 10:50 left in the first half when Rohde popped a trey.
Thanks to the Beavers defense forcing turnovers and the Hornets’ inability to make bunny shots, Bluffton extended its lead to 31-19 after outscoring Kalamazoo 17-9 in the next 14 minutes to establish its largest lead of the game.
At halftime the Beavers maintained a double-digit lead, 39-27.
“They had pretty good overall size and they clogged the middle a lot so we knew we were probably not going to get a lot of good looks on what we call the first side of our offense we had to kind of get two or three reversals to loosen their size and then it produced more driving lanes and also allowed for us to kick it out for better shots,” Neal said.
The Beavers saw little letdown in the second half and were able to continue its double-digit advantage for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Only twice in that span did Kalamazoo get the lead to single digits. With just under 10 minutes, the Beavers led 53-42.
The Beavers’ lead ballooned to 15 points, 63-33 at the 3:47 mark, when Bluffton outscored Kalamazoo 10-2 in the next five minutes to secure the win.
The Hornets shot a 37 percent from the floor compared to the Beavers which hit 53 percent of their shots. The Hornets’ top two scorers, Miller and Chase Baysdell, were limited to 10 points respectively.
The Beavers open Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play when they travel to Transylvania and Neal said this opening is a nice boost going in to conference action.
“We have done what we can do in the five nonleague games and we got a lot of things accomplished and we will now crank it up a notch and dive in to the next phase here,” Neal said.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter @JoseNogueras1