LINDSBORG — Clair Oleen wanted it to be about his team, not him.
But there was no denying the deserved accolades after his Bethany College men upset NAIA Division I’s sixth-ranked team, St. Gregory’s of Oklahoma, 97-86 Saturday night, which gave Oleen his 500th career victory.
“To tell you the truth, I am a little embarrassed about all of this,” Oleen said. “In this day and age, too much focus and too much attention goes to coaches and not to the young men that we coach in our programs. It is because of them, because of the great assistants I've had through the years, that this is happened. This is a tribute to not only our current players, but all of the players that I've had the privilege to coach at Bethany."
The Swedes not only have sent shockwaves throughout the KCAC, but the country. They are now 5-1 on the year after being picked to finish near the bottom of the conference in the preseason.
But Oleen has molded a group of talented transfers with his remaining players for a tremendous start.
“This is just a super group of young men, they're good basketball players and I don't know if it's as much as what we have taught them as much as we've been very blessed to get them to jell together and play together,” Oleen said. “Our rebounding advantage is something that really sticks out to me because St. Gregory's has been a very good rebounding team and are very big on the offensive glass. This win is important for us, not only are they a top-ranked team but they are also NAIA Division I, they were a Final Four team last year and have all their starters back from that team, including a guard (Marty Wilkerson) who is an All-American. This was a signature win and we have put two back-to-back wins that are big for our program.”
The Swedes were up only 38-37 at the half, but had an amazing second half, up by as many as 27 points.
The victory was Oleen’s 292nd with the men’s team after compiling 208 wins as the Swedes’ women’s coach.
Cody Harris lit it up again for the Swedes with 26 points. Gary Jones and Jonathan Gidson scored 21 and Nathan Coleman added 15, along with 13 rebounds. Harris, Jones and Gidson are all transfers, but have fit in perfectly.
Bethany shot 34 of 59 from the field, including 21 of 29 in the second half. They pounded the glass for a 54-39 rebounding advantage.
Wilkerson led St. Gregory’s with 30 points.
The Swedes play in Colorado on Friday and Saturday of next week.
Bethany (97) — Jones 21, Harris 26, Coleman 15, Smith 7, Peterson 5, Gidson 21, Huskey 2.
St. Gregory’s (86) — Vierra 2, Lemley 2, Wilkerson 30, Shields 7, Thornton 12, Jones 24, Samaha 9.