MARSHALL - Guard Cordell Smith drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner with 8 minutes, 64 seconds left in the second half to give his Concordia-St. Paul team its first lead against Southwest Minnesota State since making the game's opening basket. SMSU had been in control through most of the contest, leading by as many as nine, but the Golden Bears had battled back to take a 65-64 lead and looked poised to go toe-to-toe with the Mustangs down the stretch of Saturday's game at the R/A Facility.
Having blown a late lead to No. 21 Minnesota State-Mankato in the final minutes of a gut-wrenching one-point loss the previous night, the Mustangs were a different team in the crucial moments on Saturday. SMSU shot 69.2 percent from the field in the second half and used a late 15-2 run to bolt ahead of the Golden Bears on its way to a 96-86 victory.
SMSU hit a season-high 61.8 percent of its shots for the game, and its 96 points were also a season high. Part of the reason for the team's offensive output was the Mustangs' tremendous ball movement. Particularly in the second half, the SMSU wing players drove to the basket and found each other or center Nick Smith for wide-open shots. The team finished with 20 assists.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State junior center Nick Smith (44) drops in a layup while Concrodia-St. Paul’s Shea Mandlie tries to get a block from behind during the second half of Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at the R/A Facility. Smith scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half.
It was a performance the Mustangs have strived for.
"Looking at the game, that was the awesome part was you could see the chemistry that was there," said SMSU forward William Giddings, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds. "It was just beautiful to go out there and play unselfish, share the ball, move the ball, looking to find your teammates and making the easy pass, the right pass, and having guys step up to finish the play.
"Whenever you watch basketball, you want to see a team that shares the ball, a team that can do those type of things, and those are the teams that tend to be more successful."
Concordia-St. Paul (86)
Cole Olstad 7-14 6-10 23, Isaiah Thomas 4-9 0-0 11, Terez VanPelt 6-14 15-17 28, Shae Mandli 0-3 1-2 1, Mike Yahnke 1-5 2-2 4, DJ Lewis 0-7 2-2 2, Martin Demitrius 1-1 0-0 2, Cordell Smith 2-5 3-3 8, Nick Mabbutt 3-4 0-0 7. Totals 24 62 29-36 86. 3-pointers 9-22 (Olstad 3-7, Thomas 3-7, VanPelt 1-3, Smith 1-2, Mabbutt 1-1) Rebounds 27 (Mandli 8, Olstad 5) Assists 15 (VanPelt 7, Olstad 3) Steals 7 (VanPelt 4) Blocks 1 Turnovers 10 Total Fouls 23.
Tramel Barnes 1-1 5-7 8, Vinard Birch 6-6 2-4 14, Jordan Miller 5-8 6-8 17, Matt Zager 2-4 0-0 5, Nick Smith 6-10 2-4 14, William Giddings 6-10 2-2 15, Jordan Buddenhagen 2-2 0-0 6, Shaun Condon 3-6 0-0 7, Lavione West 3-7 4-4 10, David Condon 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 34-55 22-29 96. 3-pointers 6-10 (Buddenhagen 2-2, Miller 1-3, Zager 1-2, S. Condon 1-2) Rebounds 38 (Miller 10, Giddings 6, Barnes 5, Smith 5, West 5) Assists 20 (Miller 8) Steals 5 (Miller 2) Blocks 2 (West 2) Turnovers 16 Total Fouls 24.
Halftime Score: SMSU 42, Concordia-St. Paul 36.
Senior guard Jordan Miller led the Mustangs (6-6 overall, 3-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) with a strong all-around effort, scoring a team-high 17 points to go with 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He also had seven of SMSU's 16 turnovers, but Mustang head coach Brad Bigler said Miller really provided a spark for the squad.
"In the second half when you see Jordan Miller with the basketball in his hands running the point, we're going to do that more in second halves because he can be that playmaker and really set the tone on the offensive end," Bigler said.
Nick Smith had a rough first half, scoring just one point and playing just seven minutes after picking up a couple of fouls. He scored 13 points in the second half and was the beneficiary of some drive-and-dish opportunities created by the Mustangs' perimeter players.
Miller said getting Smith going was a key part of the team's surge.
"Nick's an important guy for us. When he gets going it's going to be that much harder to guard our offense," Miller said. "Like tonight, in the second half he got 13 points, then what are you going to do when you got Vinard (Birch) or someone else coming off a screen. So it really helps having Nick get going because when that happens it just opens up the floor for everybody else."
The loss dropped Concordia to 0-5 in the conference and 1-7 overall, but the Mustang players and coaches said the Golden Bears' record was deceptive. Concordia lost its first three conference games by six points or less, including a 66-63 loss to No. 18 Winona State.
The Golden Bears got a huge game from shifty 6-foot-1 point guard Terez VanPelt, who hit some difficult contested jumpers and also slashed to the basket to draw several fouls and help keep his team in contention. VanPelt finished with 28 points, seven assists and four steals. Most of his points came from the foul line, where he went 15 of 17.
It was a career-high game during a career year for VanPelt, who has upped his averaged to over 20 points per game after averaging 8.1 ppg last year.
"Terez VanPelt has really taken his game to another level," Bigler said. "I really have a lot of respect for Terez and his ability to score the basketball, but also to defend. He's a pretty complete player."
Sophomore guard Cole Olstad added 23 points for Concordia in the losing effort.
The Golden Bears hit nine 3s in the game, including three in less than four minutes as they went up 68-67 after a deep ball from Olstad with 8:06 left in the game.
Over the next five minutes, SMSU had great success penetrating and finding players for open shots. Guard Vinard Birch (who had 14 points), Miller, Giddings, Lavione West (10 points, three assists) and Tramel Barnes (eight points) were the primary players who combined with Nick Smith to create a free-flowing offense that helped the Mustangs pull away.
SMSU is off until Jan. 4 when the Mustangs travel to play Winona State, which will be followed by a game against Upper Iowa the next day. Giddings said he likes the progress the team has made through the first stretch of the season.
"It's just about finishing for us. I don't think we're ahead of the game right now, but I think we're right where we should be," he said. "There are just a few things we have to tighten up offensively and defensively and hopefully the second half of the season will be a good one for us."