GOLDEN, Colo. - The Central Region quarterfinals have a familiar beginning for Minnesota State-Moorhead and Southwest Minnesota State.
Riding a hot hand from the outside with Andrew VanHavermaet scoring 17 first-half points, the Dragons soared in the first half with a 36-25 lead after the first 20 minutes on Saturday.
It was a similar predicament for MSU-Moorhead from last weekend's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament championship game, where the Mustangs came back from a 36-28 halftime deficit to win the conference tournament for the first time in school history in a 76-72 decision.
Photo by Joe Brown
Southwest Minnesota State's Tramel Barnes, left, tries to dribble around Minnesota State-Moorhead's DJ Hamilton during the first half of their Central Region quarterfinal game at Lockridge Arena in Golden, Colo.
The script seemed the same, but the Dragons didn't fret when they went into the locker room at halftime.
"You just move on, you talk about some of the things you can improve on and things you continue to do," MSU-Moorhead head coach Chad Walthall said. "These guys are good players and I got a lot of faith in them.
"We just executed a little better and got it done."
This time around, MSU-Moorhead didn't relent, moving on in the Central Region tournament with an 82-66 drubbing over SMSU at Lockridge Arena in Golden, Colo.
Seeded fourth in the Central Region tournament, the Mustangs end the 2011-12 season with a 19-11 record.
"I think Minnesota State-Moorhead was the better basketball team," said SMSU head coach Brad Bigler. "I thought they came in prepared. Coach Walthall did an excellent job with adjustments. They played with a better edge than we did, and they played with a chip on their shoulder from the last time we played them."
Leading by as much as 22 points with over five minutes left in the game, the Dragons (21-9 overall) move to the Central Region semifinals, where they will take on top seed and No. 1-ranked Colorado School of Mines on Sunday. The host Orediggers defeated No. 8 seed Augustana by a score of 82-69 on Saturday night.
Holding onto the lead for the entire second half, MSU-Moorhead was led by senior guard Charlie Chapman, who scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half.
"Coach said once we break the press, if you got an open three, hit it, don't think twice," Chapman said. "Once we got past their first three defenders on the press, I felt like it opened the floor. My teammates found me and we were hitting the shots (Saturday)."
From the onset, SMSU's offense struggled to get into a flow, going scoreless on its first seven possessions. They recovered and scored 16 points in the next 13 possessions in the first half before going scoreless on the next eight runs down the court. The Mustangs finished the game shooting 39.1 percent, their lowest percentage since Jan. 14.
In the NSIC championship, the Dragons allowed 50 points in the paint and got to the line for 17 points. MSU-Moorhead junior post Alex Novak was not going to allow that same total in the rematch.
"I went into this game with a chip on my shoulder," said Novak, who finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. "As a post player, you want to protect the paint, so I went in there, tried to do my best and went after every rebound."
On Saturday, the Mustangs managed only 24 points in the paint and 11 points at the free-throw line.
"I have to say, Alex Novak is a heck of a player. If he's not blocking shots, he's altering a lot of shots," said Mustangs forward Lavione West. "They just did a good job of staying in front, not gambling, making us go help side where you couldn't rise up. We were second-guessing ourselves and we weren't in the flow."
Trying to use its superior depth, SMSU kept up its man-to-man press in hopes of wearing down the Dragons, evoking the same strategy the team used in the NSIC championship game. But this time, the Mustangs left too many open chances for their opponent.
"That first half, we were a step slow," Bigler said of SMSU's defense. "Yes, they knocked down shots and they were open. But when we go back and look at film, I have a feeling we're going to have a lot of breakdowns. That gave them confidence."
Despite a seven-man rotation, MSU-Moorhead was able to crack the press, firing off quick perimeter shots en route to an 11-of-28 three-point effort. Chapman finished 4 of 8 from three-point range, and VanHavermaet hit five threes, all in the first half.
"When they got four shooters like they do, you have to fly around in rotations and we didn't get to the rotations sometimes," SMSU guard Jordan Miller said. "Once they got hot, they're like normal shooters. They get hot, they got the confidence and they're going to let it fly."
Led by West's 12 points, SMSU cut the second-half deficit to 63-50 with 9 minutes, 54 seconds left before the Dragons stopped the Mustangs cold with a 10-2 run to cement the victory.
Miller added 11 points and eight rebounds, and Will Giddings shot 4 of 7 for 10 points for SMSU.
In other Central Region play, No. 6 St. Cloud State persevered through an injury to their best post player, Tim Bergstraser, for a 77-72 come-from-behind victory against Bemidji State. In the No. 2 vs. No. 7 game, second-seeded Metro State held off Adams State for a 79-74 victory.
Alex Novak 4-8 9-16 17, Jordan Riewer 0-1 4-4 4, Charlie Chapman 8-15 4-6 24, DJ Hamilton 2-9 8-8 12, Andrew VanHavermaet 7-13 0-0 19, Jake Driscoll 2-7 0-0 6, Eric Olson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 25-24 82. Three-Pointers 11-28 (VanHavermaet 5-11, Chapman 4-8, Driscoll 2-4) Rebounds 39 (Novak 14, Chapman 10) Assists 15 (Riewer 5, Driscoll 4) Steals 7 (Novak 3) Blocks 5 (Novak 3) Turnovers 11 Total Fouls 12.
Will Giddings 4-7 0-0 10, Nick Smith 2-8 1-2 5, Vinard Birch 1-8 1-1 3, Jordan Miller 5-15 0-1 11, Matt Zager 2-4 2-2 6, Tramel Barnes 2-3 3-4 7, Dalston Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Trent Carlson 2-4 0-0 6, Lavione West 4-8 4-4 12, Casey Sussenguth 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 25-64 11-14 66. Three-Pointers 5-17 (Carlson 2-3, Giddings 2-4) Rebounds 34 (Smith 8, Miller 8, West 6) Assists 10 (Miller 4, Barnes 3) Steals 5 (West 2) Blocks 2 Turnovers 10 Total Fouls 24.
Halftime Score: MSU-Moorhead 82, SMSU 66.