PELLA — As a nine-point first-half lead ricocheted into a nine-point second-half deficit, the Central College men’s basketball team was in need of a spark.
And it came off the bench from junior guards Kaleb Brand and Nolan Brand (Mount Vernon) as the Dutch rebounded for a closing flurry and a 79-70 American Rivers win over Buena Vista University Wednesday.
Central (10-4 overall), which retained a share of first place in the conference at 5-1, found itself down 57-48 with 13:26 to play. But coach Joe Steinkamp credited the Brands’ effort for initiating the Dutch reboot. Nolan Brand had just eight points in 17 minutes of action but also had eight rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. And he was the clear team leader in the plus-minus column at plus 21. Meanwhile, Kaleb Brand had nine points and two assists.
“I really thought the players of the game were Nolan Brand and Kaleb Brand,” Steinkamp said. “It’s just their energy and their hustle plays, offensive rebounds, diving on the floor, keeping plays alive.”
Central went on a 19-2 rampage for a 67-59 lead with 5:38 left to reassert command.
“Our defense was really big in that stretch,” Steinkamp said. “That fueled our run and we got just enough timely threes.”
The Dutch were forced to turn to other options because Buena Vista surrounded three-time conference player of the week Joshua Van Gorp (junior, Pella, Pella Christian HS) in the post as he was held scoreless in the first half. But forward Grant Johnson (senior, Waukee, Van Meter HS) responded with his second consecutive double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“Grant Johnson had another great all-around game,” Steinkamp said. “He didn’t get the assists like he usually gets because of how they were defending him, but he just found different ways to score.”
Forward Kole Tupa (junior, Center Point, Center Point-Urbana HS) had 12 points and Van Gorp had 10 second-half points. Meanwhile, point guard Drew Edwards (senior, Eden Prairie, Minn.) had nine assists along with eight points and six rebounds.
“Drew was great, too, especially in that second half,” Steinkamp said. “I thought he really got us out in transition. He gets those assists before the defense can load up. He’s always excellent defensively, too. To have nine assists and only one turnover is outstanding.”
Central had only seven turnovers overall.
Steinkamp said the Dutch defended well despite having to withstand 14 Buena Vista 3-point goals. The Beavers attempted 45 threes on the night but hit just 31.9% from the field overall. Central shot 45.5% and a held a slight 47-46 rebounding edge.
“It was a good defensive win, a good team win,” he said. “That’s two games in a row where we had second-half deficits, but we came through. We made plays, we made stops and I’m just really proud of this team.”
Luther College is Saturday’s opponent in a conference women’s-men’s doubleheader. The men’s game tips at 4 p.m. at Decorah. Luther is 0-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play after sustaining an 82-75 loss at Simpson College Saturday. The Norse were off Wednesday evening.
“That’s always a tough place to play,” Steinkamp said. “They’ve been in a lot of games in the league and have been winning at halftime. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time, keep playing hard, keep defending with passion, keep doing our thing.”