MARSHALL - Putting a heartbreaking loss in the past and focusing on the next game is easier said than done, but the Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team sure made it look easy on Saturday.
A night after suffering a crushing defeat to Bemidji State on buzzer-beater from just inside half court, the Mustangs played with purpose from the opening tip against Minnesota-Duluth and earned a 90-69 blowout victory on Senior Night at the R/A Facility.
SMSU started the game on fire from the field and coupled that with a tenacious defensive effort against the highest-scoring team in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. SMSU guard Jordan Miller ignited the charge, scoring 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half on 7 of 8 shooting (4 of 5 from three-point range) to help the Mustangs jump out to a 50-28 lead going into the locker room.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State’s Jordan Miller, left, gets ready to release a shot over the outstretched arm of Minnesota-Duluth’s Dylan Rodriguez in the first half of Saturday night’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at the R/A Facility. Miller scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half of SMSU’s 90-69 victory.
"(Friday) night was a stinger, obviously. You don't like to lose like that," Miller said. "We just said that it was one game and it wasn't something that was going to define us as a team. The main concept (Saturday) was defensively and it worked for us."
Miller was one of five players to score in double figures for the Mustangs. Center Nick Smith added 10 points, forward Matt Zager scored 10 points, and seniors Casey Sussenguth and Trent Carlson added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The Mustangs (15-10 overall, 14-7 NSIC) had a tough defensive assignment for the second night in a row. Friday, SMSU faced the conference's leading scorer in Bemidji's James Ellisor, and on Saturday the Mustangs had to try to contain guard Ryan Rasmussen, the NSIC's second-leading scorer at 19.0 points per game.
Brett Ervin 8-10 6-9 22, Jake Hottenstine 4-8 4-6 13, Ryan Rasmussen 3-5 2-3 9, Riley Walker 2-10 2-3 6, Reece Zoelle 2-5 1-2 5, Dan Kornbaum 4-6 0-0 8, Peter Crawford 2-8 2-4 6, Bryan Sprang 0-2 0-0 0, Erik Powers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 17-27 69. Three-pointers 2-12 Rebounds 31 (Walker 9) Assists 13 (Rasmussen 4) Steals 4 Blocks 4 (Kornbaum 2) Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 19.
Jordan Miller 9-13 2-2 24, Nick Smith 3-8 8-8 14, Matt Zager 3-8 3-4 10, William Giddings 3-4 0-0 7, Vinard Birch 0-2 0-0 0, Casey Sussenguth 6-8 0-0 12, Trent Carlson 3-6 2-2 11, Tramel Barnes 2-3 2-2 6, Lavione West 2-7 0-2 4, Dalston Jones 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 32-62 17-20 90. Three-pointers 9-18 (Miller 4-6, Carlson 3-6) Rebounds 37 (Miller 5, Zager 5, Barnes 5, West 5) Assists 22 (Miller 5, Barnes 5, Sussenguth 4) Steals 5 (Sussenguth 2) Blocks 5 (Smith 4) Turnovers 8 Total Fouls 17
Halftime Score: SMSU 50, UMD 28.
When SMSU faced UMD (14-10, 11-9 NSIC) on Jan. 20, Rasmussen went off for 30 points in a 94-90 shootout that went in the Bulldogs' favor. Rasmussen, who leads the NSIC with 72 made three-pointers, was held to just nine points on Saturday and was in foul trouble for much of the second half.
Another factor in Mustangs' win was dominance on the boards, which was key while playing a team as potent offensively as the Bulldogs, who averaged 81.0 ppg entering Saturday. SMSU held a 23-9 rebounding edge at halftime and didn't allow UMD a single offensive rebound in the first 20 minutes.
"I think the biggest thing was just making them work for everything," SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said of his team's defensive effort. "Last time it was a very chaotic game up and down the floor and I thought both teams spent quite a bit of energy last time we played them. As far as defensive adjustments, we just made them work harder in the half court. We made a couple of matchup adjustments and I think that worked well for us."
UMD held a 10-9 lead five minutes into the game before SMSU went on an 11-0 run that included a three-pointer and a layup by William Giddings. A short time later, Miller went on an 8-0 run by himself with back-to-back three-pointers and a mid-range jumper to help SMSU push the lead to 28-13. The Mustangs continued to ride the momentum on their way to a 22-point halftime lead.
"When everyone is driving and kicking it puts pressure on the whole defense on the other team," Miller said. "(Saturday), I have to give it to my teammates. They were driving and kicking and I was the one open, and I got lucky, I guess."
Seemingly out of the game by halftime, the Bulldogs made a furious second-half comeback sparked by 6-foot-7 sophomore center Brett Ervin, who scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the second half. UMD went on a 21-5 run in a span of just over six minutes, cutting SMSU's massive lead down to 62-57 after a layup by Riley Walker with 9:54 left on the clock.
With the game's outcome back in question, SMSU responded with a 9-1 run on a layup by Smith, a jumper by Sussenguth, a three-pointer by Zager and two free throws by Miller to push the lead back to double figures. The Mustangs gradually increased the margin the rest of the game.
"We knew they were going to come out and make a run so we just had to weather the storm," Miller said. "They came out and got it to five and we had a timeout and said in the huddle that defense was the way we were going to win this game. We came out, got the defense going and we got us a 'W.'"
SMSU's three seniors finished their final regular-season home game on a high note. Seldom-used guard Dalston Jones scored a layup with 58 seconds left and Carlson drilled a three-pointer with 32 seconds remaining to ignite the crowd up through the final moments of the game.
"I'm very thankful for all three of them and how they've gone about their business," Bigler said of his seniors. "I view all three of those guys as the glue to this team. The glue doesn't mean that they're all always going to have the highest production, but I think that their personalities and leadership styles have been very effective for this team and I'm very thankful for all three of them. I hope we can finish strong for them."
Currently sixth in the Central Region rankings, SMSU closes the regular season Saturday on the road against Minnesota State-Mankato. While the Mustangs have won five of their last six games, the Mavericks (7-18, 6-15) have dropped six straight contests heading into the regular season finale.