MARSHALL - Fans that think of basketball as a beautiful game wouldn't have seen much of a semblance of such through most of Saturday's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener between the Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team and the University of Sioux Falls.
Particularly in the first half, it was a grinding defensive struggle in which neither team could find any offensive flow. Both teams shot below 40 percent in the half and went into the locker room tied at 25.
It wasn't until midway through the second half when the Mustangs kicked into high gear, moving the ball around for open shots and finishing at the rim to pull away with a 15-2 run that propelled them to a 70-60 win.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State senior guard Jordan Miller (13) shoots a floater over Sioux Falls’ Keaton Moffitt (14) and David Maxwell (34) during the first half of Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener at the R/A Facility at SMSU.
After shooting 38.1 percent in the first half, the Mustangs shot 61.9 percent in the second half (13 of 21) and hit four of five 3-pointers. But SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said the NSIC-newcomers from Sioux Falls certainly made the Mustangs (1-0 NSIC, 4-4 overall) work for what they got.
"I thought defensively tonight with both teams it was a little bit of a chess match," Bigler said. "Both teams were switching up their defenses and trying to keep the other team off balance, and fortunately we were able to make enough plays to win."
SMSU guard Jordan Miller went 1-for-7 from the field in the first half, then found his touch in the second half and hit all four of his shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with a team-high 16 points.
Sioux Falls (60)
A.J. Holland 1-5 4-4 6, Keaton Moffitt 1-4 0-0 2, Robert Goffney 0-3 0-0 0, James Rader 2-6 3-4 7, David Maxwell 2-5 0-1 4, Jerry Dixon 2-7 0-0 5, Alex Robey 1-4 2-2 4, Derek Brown 7-12 4-4 23, Keith Cutler 2-4 0-0 5, Patrick Coughlin 0-1 0-0 0, Bryan Kielpinski 1-2 2-3 5. Totals 19-53 15-19 60. 3-pointers 7-23 (Brown 5-8, Dixon 1-3, Cutler 1-3) Rebounds 25 (Maxwell 5) Assists 10 (Holland 3) Steals 13 (Brown 4, Dixon 3) Blocks 0 Turnovers 10 Total Fouls 25.
Tramel Barnes 2-3 3-4 7, Vinard Birch 3-6 5-5 11, Jordan Miller 5-11 2-6 16, Matt Zager 3-6 0-0 6, Nick Smith 1-4 2-2 4, William Giddings 1-1 0-0 2, Jordan Buddenhagen 2-2 2-2 7, Shaun Condon 1-5 3-4 6, Lavione West 3-4 4-7 11. Totals 21-42 23-29 70. 3-pointers 5-13 (Miller 2-6, Buddenhagen 1-1, Condon 1-4, West 1-1) Rebounds 34 (Barnes 6, West 6) Assists 8 (Birch 4) Steals 6 (Birch 2) Blocks 7 (Smith 3, West 2) Turnovers 7 Total Fouls 18.
Halftime Score: SMSU 25, USF 25.
Miller said the Cougars (0-1, 4-1) did a good job keeping the Mustangs out of their transition game, which he felt had a lot to do with the team's slow start.
"Right away, we weren't getting up and down offensively if we got a stop," Miller said. "We're a team that likes to get going on the break, it helps us out, and we were able to loosen up in the second half, made those extra passes, and it obviously helped out."
Moving the basketball has been something the Mustangs have struggled with in recent losses and they've finished games with single-digit assist totals as a team. SMSU was stuck on three assists through the first three-fourths of the game and finished with eight.
But Bigler said he didn't feel as concerned with the low assist totals after this game due to the type of defense the Cougars were playing.
"I thought they defended very well, and tonight wasn't a night where were going to get a lot of assists because they weren't leaving shooters open, they were locking us up," Bigler said. "When that's happening, we have to finish in the paint through contact. They were locking up on the perimeter and making us finish 1-on-1, and we weren't doing a good job of finishing through contact."
The Mustangs defended well, too. USF's starters finished with just 19 points combined, and SMSU had seven blocks in the game, including three from center Nick Smith. What kept the Cougars close was the shooting of reserve guard Derek Brown, who connected on five of eight 3-point attempts and scored a game-high 23 points.
But Brown's scoring wasn't enough to keep up with the Mustangs' surge midway through the second half.
The run started when Jordan Buddenhagen made a pair of free throws following a technical foul on USF guard Jerry Dixon to put the Mustangs up 42-39. Smith followed with a layup, Lavione West came up with a block on defense, and point guard Vinard Birch was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to seven points. Miller and Shaun Condon each added 3-pointers later in the run, both coming off assists.
Condon's 3 put SMSU up 58-43 with 5:37 left in the game. Sioux Falls never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
Joining Miller in double figures scoring for SMSU were West and Birch, who each finished with 11 points. West added six rebounds as the Mustangs won the battle of the boards 34-25. Mustang guard Tramel Barnes added six rebounds and seven points.
No player other than Brown scored more than seven points for Sioux Falls.
The Mustangs play their conference road opener on Friday against undefeated Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., then head to Wayne, Neb., Saturday to take on the Wayne State Wildcats (0-1, 5-1).