A lack of consistency going against tough competition in the Heart of Iowa Conference prevented the Nevada boys’ basketball team from ending the season with a winning record in 2017-18.
The Cubs finished 10-13 overall and 8-6 in the HOIC. Nevada played its best ball after Christmas, going 7-7 after the break, but never got on the hot streak it needed to take its confidence as a team to the next level.
“We had a very deep and competitive conference this year,” Nevada head boys’ basketball coach Chris Hinson said. “I thought we showed up and competed every night, but couldn’t quite find that groove where we consistently played at our best and reeled off a bunch of wins. I thought we always showed up and played hard and competed, but couldn’t quite get over the hump and stay over the hump.”
Nevada finished in a three-way tie for third in the HOIC with Gilbert and Greene County. A South Hamilton team that qualified for state in Class 2A and finished the regular season unbeaten won the conference, and a strong Prairie City-Monroe squad came in second with an 11-3 mark.
Nevada was swept by South Hamilton, but split games with PCM. The Cubs lost by 22 to PCM at home in early December, but crushed the Mustangs by 17 at Monroe in late January.
The Cubs split with Gilbert and lost both contests versus Greene County.
On Dec. 8, Nevada topped Gilbert by a 70-61 score and the Tigers returned the favor with an 80-67 win over the Cubs at Gilbert on Feb. 2. Greene County handed Nevada a 60-55 home loss on Dec. 19, then defeated the Cubs in Jefferson by a 63-55 score on Jan. 16.
“Outscoring Gilbert 23-6 in the fourth quarter to win early in the year was a great win,” Hinson said. “Beating a really good PCM team handily at their place was really satisfying.”
Nevada was a perfect 6-0 against the rest of the HOIC.
The Cubs defeated North Polk by a score of 63-56 in Alleman on Dec. 1, then won a 45-43 thriller over the Comets in Nevada on Jan. 19, a game that saw Nevada using an amazing fourth-quarter rally to overcome a 21-point deficit.
“Our most fun win was beating North Polk by ending the game on a 25-2 run, which included a game-tying 3 by Om’Unique (Wilkerson) with about 20 seconds left, and a steal and a go-ahead layup by Trent (Stahl) with three seconds left,” Hinson said.
The Cubs swept Roland-Story by scores of 51-38 and 53-50. They whipped Saydel twice, 74-43 and 50-27.
In non-conference play, Nevada faced a tough lineup.
The Cubs played two larger 3A teams out of the Raccoon River Conference in rival Ballard and Boone, plus another bigger 3A program in Newton. Nevada also faced defending 1A state champion Grand View Christian, another quality 1A school in rival Colo-NESCO and went up against Grundy Center and Spirit Lake on the road late in the season.
Nevada won two of those non-conference tilts. The Cubs knocked off Colo-NESCO, 52-41, at home on Jan. 6 and dismantled Grundy Center on the road, 81-50, Feb. 6.
In the postseason, Nevada went up against a strong Winterset team in the opening round of 3A districts. The Cubs were handed a 70-50 loss to end the season.
Hinson said the team executed much better offensively after Christmas.
“During the break we made an adjustment to our offense, which focused more on getting the ball inside and freeing up Trent for some opportunities to score, which helped our offense,” Hinson said. “We also identified some weaknesses and established some goals each game.”
Nevada also improved defensively and took better care of the ball after the break.
“We were giving up too many points per game and not getting enough single-digit quarters — our ppg defense went down the second half (of the season),” Hinson said. “Another (thing) was we were turning the ball over too much and our turnovers per game went down the second half.”
Nevada finished the season averaging 56.5 points and allowing 57.6 per game.
The Cubs shot 41.2 percent from the field, 55.1 percent from the line and made 96 3-pointers at a 29.4-percent clip. Nevada allowed opposing teams to shoot 43.4 percent from the field, forced 17 turnovers per game and was outrebounded by a slim 31.7-30.1 margin per game.
Stahl was the engine that made Nevada go on offense.
The Cub point guard averaged 16.0 points, 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Stahl shot 44.4 percent from the field, 43.6 percent from 3-point range and 83.9 percent from the line, and he led the team in 3-point baskets with 41.
Two other seniors — Wilkerson on the wing and Luke Merfeld in the low post — were Nevada’s other consistent threats during the season.
Wilkerson averaged 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals and he blocked 21 shots during the season. Wilkerson shot 44.6 percent from the field and made seven 3-pointers.
Merfeld put up 9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 assists per game. He shot 51 percent from the field and 60.8 percent from the line.
Senior forward Jack Higgins averaged 5.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. He shot 44 percent from the field.
Sophomore guard Tyler Sansgaard averaged 5.6 points and was second on the team in 3-pointers with 33, shooting 30.3 percent from long range and 70 percent from the line. Sansgaard also averaged 1.7 assists and rebounds per game.
Juniors Devin See, Jakob Strottman, Jack Cahill and Jacob Sanders, sophomore Kody Kruschwitz and freshman Ayden Rhodes also saw action in 10 games or more for Nevada.
See produced 4.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game; Strottman averaged 4.0 points and 3.0 rebounds; Cahill tallied 1.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per game and Sanders totaled six rebounds. Kruschwitz compiled 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals on the season and Rhodes had 13 rebounds, 11 steals, eight assists and seven points.
With the loss of Stahl, Wilkerson, Merfeld, Higgins and fellow senior Kyle Bauman, Nevada will face a rebuilding period in 2018-19. The Cubs will also be without Hinson, who stepped down as head coach earlier this week.
“We obviously have a lot to replace,” Hinson said. “Jack Higgins was a starter and a glue guy for us. Om’Unique Wilkerson was a two-year starter and did a little of everything for us, including being our top rebounder and second leading scorer. Luke Merfeld was a three-year starter and a rock for us as a consistent inside force at both ends of the floor. And Trent Stahl is a two-time first-team all conference guard and one of the better shooters and overall guards to ever play at Nevada.”
The returning Cub players must adjust to a new coach, as Hinson decided to step down at the end of the season.
“I’d like to thanks everyone involved for giving me the opportunity to coach and the support they have given me,” Hinson said. “I love Nevada, basketball and coaching in general. I coached with all my heart, loved every minute of it, and am very proud of the things our program has achieved the last 13 years I was on the boys’ basketball staff, including the last four years where I was the head coach.”
“The sole reason for my resignation is my desire to be the best dad I can be and put more time and effort into that,” Hinson said. “I am still very interested in coaching for Nevada and helping out Nevada athletics in general, but at this time I need to cut back the time demands of being a head coach. If I can be of any help in moving the program forward, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks again for all the help and support I’ve received here as a coach at Nevada.”
Hinson is hopeful that the younger players can raise their game enough to ease the transition for the next Cub coach and maybe turn some heads next season.
“We have seven guys that got a lot of quality minutes this year and earned letters at the varsity level, and our JV and freshman teams had successful seasons and a lot of nice pieces coming up,” Hinson said. “Obviously it will be a big off-season for us in finding guys to take a step forward in their development and being ready to compete at the varsity level. I think our team will look different next year, but I think we have a good chance to be a team that plays fast and plays really hard and relies on our depth and how hard we play as a group to win games.”