ST. CLOUD - Beating the No. 24-ranked team in the country on Saturday was frantic enough for Brad Bigler. But it was after the game that was the most frantic part of Bigler's night.
Shooting a season-high 61.1 percent from the field, the Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team cruised to an 85-69 road victory over St. Cloud State. Then, the Mustangs' head coach had to bolt back to Marshall for the birth of his third child, Drake Phillip Bigler.
Before he had to race back home, Bigler was elated for his team after beating a ranked team for the first time since March 3, 2010.
Photo by Joe Brown
Southwest Minnesota State’s Tramel Barnes (2) tries to shoot over St. Cloud State’s Connor Niehaus during the first half of Saturday’s NSIC game at Halenbeck Hall in St. Cloud.
"To go on the road and win any game in the NSIC is big," Bigler said. "For us to get a sweep this weekend is showing the improvement in our team. That's toughness and the guys are really coming together."
With three games left in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference season, the Mustangs sit in fourth place with a 13-6 conference record (14-9 overall). On Friday, SMSU plays the NSIC's fifth-place team, Bemidji State, at the R/A Facility.
Early on, the Mustangs had to adjust to a little adversity of their own. Just minutes into the game, starting point guard Vinard Birch hit the floor and came up grasping at his side. After only seven minutes, he left the game with a hip pointer and did not return, leaving the point duties to Tramel Barnes, Dalston Jones and shooting guard Jordan Miller.
Will Giddings 7-15 4-5 19, Jordan Miller 7-10 2-2 19, Nick Smith 8-10 1-1 17, Matt Zager 2-4 2-2 6, Vinard Birch 0-0 0-0 0, Lavione West 2-5 4-6 9, Tramel Barnes 3-4 0-0 6, Casey Sussenguth 3-4 0-0 6, Trent Carlson 1-2 0-0 3, Dalston Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-54 13-16 85. Three-Pointers 6-14 (Miller 3-6) Rebounds 29 (Giddings 9) Assists 16 (Miller 5) Steals 6 (West 3) Blocks 0 Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 15.
St. Cloud State (69)
Theo Rothstein 9-19 0-0 19, Shaun Jensen 3-7 6-8 13, Tim Bergstraser 6-10 0-0 12, Brett Putz 2-6 3-4 9, Mike Rostampour 2-7 2-2 7, Tony Brooks 3-4 0-0 6, Scott Hawkins 1-2 0-0 3, Kevin Levandoski 0-0 0-0 0, Kenquane Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Ognjen Rebic 0-0 0-0 0, Connor Niehaus 0-3 0-0 0, James Fort 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-59 11-14 69. Three-Pointers 6-15 (Putz 2-4) Rebounds 28 (Rothstein 6) Assists 14 (Jensen 6) Steals 7 Blocks 3 Turnovers 14 Total Fouls 16.
Halftime Score: SMSU 44, St. Cloud State 37.
"We took as if he were in foul trouble, and we just got to go with the personnel you got," Miller said. "Dalston got in, played really well for us and made an impact in the minutes he got."
Miller ended up with 19 points and five assists, while Barnes shot 3 of 4 for six points in 21 minutes.
"I think Birch is as good as any point guard in the league. For them to lose him, I'm sure that hurts," said St. Cloud State head coach Kevin Schlagel, "but the nice thing for them is how deep their team is.
"They just plug another guy in and take over that role. They got enough guys that can knock down shots and make life miserable."
The Huskies jumped out to a 26-18 lead midway through the first half, thanks to forward Theo Rothstein's 15 first-half points. He finished with 19.
SMSU responded with an 11-2 run to go up 30-28. Tied at 35, the Mustangs closed the half on a 9-2 run to go up 44-37.
"Every player that came out for our team was able to hit some big shots at certain times of the game," said forward Will Giddings, who had career highs in points (19) and rebounds (9).
"We really wanted to treat it like a playoff game."
With 17:35 left in the game, Huskies guard Brett Putz hit a three-pointer to close the gap to 48-44, before SMSU and St. Cloud State exchanged baskets. Up 56-51 with 13:35 left, consecutive layups by Casey Sussenguth and Jordan Miller put the Mustangs up by nine. SMSU held a 36-20 scoring advantage in the paint.
"That's something that's been a bright spot for us lately," Bigler said of the team's play in the paint.
"Both Nick (Smith) and Casey have been playing to their strengths and finishing. They've been very productive, very efficient in their minutes."
At 11:23, a three-pointer by Lavione West put SMSU up by double digits for the rest of the game.
"We got beat by a better team (Saturday)," Schlagel said. "They outplayed us in many facets."