By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Over 34 years as Bethany Christian boys basketball coach, Jim Buller has seen a lot of wins and almost as many losses.
But in the annals of Elkhart County boys basketball, it’s the wins Buller will now be best known for: Thursday night at the Menno Lands, Buller’s Bruins bested visiting Howe School, 54-45 — notching Buller’s 365th career victory and moving him into sole possession of the all-time mark for wins by a boys basketball coach. Entering the 2012-13 season, Buller had been tied with John Longfellow, who was 364-163 in four seasons at Nappanee and 19 at Elkhart.
After the game, a humble Buller deflected much of the praise for the milestone achievement.
“I’m thankful to the school that has allowed to me to do this for more than 30 years, and to the many players who have come through the program during that time,” Buller said.
Buller added that he still keeps in touch with many of those players.
Thursday night, the Bruins (1-3) found themselves in unfamiliar territory so far in 2012-13: Protecting a lead.
Bethany led much of the way and was up 21-18 at intermission.
The Bruins got out to a 30-20 advantage early in the third, but could not seem to put away a pesky Howe squad until the closing minutes.
Sol Brenneman led the Bruins with 20 points. Caleb Morris added 13.
Arnas Zabarauskas led the Wildcats (1-3) with 14 points.
Brenneman said he and his teammates were thrilled to be the team that got their coach the milestone victory.
“It’s a really special thing,” Brenneman said. “We have been working on coming together as a team, and I think we did some of that tonight.”
“We’ve been trying to grow up, and gain some confidence,” Buller said. “A game like this can help a team do that.”
As for the coaching milestone, Buller said “four or five” games have stood out over the years.
Interestingly enough, he said one of those was a devastating loss — a four-OT heartbreaker to NorthWood in the Goshen Sectional, back in the glory days of the single-class tournament.
Buller added that he is glad the record is behind him. Now, he, his staff and team can focus completely on the task at hand: Coming together as a team over the next few months.
“This group can get better as the year goes on,” Buller said.
Buller added that he is taking his coaching gig on a year-to-year basis for now.