A Friday night win almost became "not again" for the Southwest Minnesota State University men's basketball team.
On the road in Aberdeen, S.D., for a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game with Northern State, the Mustangs nearly experienced their sixth second-half collapse in conference play.
Fortunately for the Mustangs, however, Nick Smith was able to put down a tough bucket with 2.9 seconds remaining to give the Mustangs a 62-61 win over the Wolves.
"What was key about that basket was Jordan Miller could have easily forced up a tough shot, but found Nick, a cutting Nick, who finished in some traffic," SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said. "The key to this game was playing unselfish and Jordan Miller finding Nick."
Smith finished with a game-high 14 points, but his final two points changed the storyline for the Mustangs.
After leading for nearly the entire 40- minute game, the Mustangs saw a nine-point lead with eight minutes, 32 seconds to play dwindle until Northern State took its first lead of the game on 3-pointer by Mack Arvidson with just 35 seconds left.
Tramel Barnes 1-2 6-6 8, Vinard Birch 2-5 0-0 4, Jordan Miller 4-13 4-4 12, Matt Zager 6-11 0-0 12, Nick Smith 6-10 2-4 14, William Giddings 3-4 0-0 8, Shaun Condon 1-2 0-0 2, Lavione West 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 24-52 12-14 62. 3-pointers 2 (Giddings 2) Rebounds 32 (Barnes 7, Miller 6) Assists 12 (Miller 6) Steals 5 (Miller 4) Blocks 5 (Smith 4) Turnovers 9 Total Fouls 13.
Northern State (61)
Mitch White 1-1 2-2 5, Geoffrey Firmin 4-7 3-4 11, Michael Emge 1-7 0-2 3, Collin Pryor 5-13 0-2 10, Dustin Tetzlaff 3-5 1-4 7, Skye Warwick 3-7 0-0 8, Mack Arvidson 4-9 0-0 11, Trent Zomer 2 0-0 4, Seth Bachand 1 0-1 2. Totals 24-59 6-15 61. 3-pointers 7 (Arvidson 3) Rebounds 38 (Pryor 14) Assists 13 (Firmin 3) Steals 7 Blocks 4 Turnovers 9 Total Fouls 14.
Halftime Score: SMSU 31, Northern State 24.
The Mustangs caught a fortunate break in avoiding the loss, as Miller's missed 3-point attempt with 11 seconds left caromed off a Northern State defender and out of bounds. Miller, who finished with 12 points and six assists, made up for the miss with his timely pass to Smith for the win.
"We count on Jordan to be our playmaker at the end of games," Bigler said. "Tonight he was able to make a decision, find others and then also get to the rim. He got fouled a little bit, which was nice to see. Jordan just has the ability to be a pretty complete player and we just need him to continue to make his teammates better. Your best players in the game of basketball always make their teammates better."
SMSU (9-9 overall, 6-5 NSIC) led by as many as 11 points during the game, holding the Wolves to 40 percent shooting for the game. Northern State (13-5, 8-3) had shot 31 percent in the first half, but knocked down some tough shots while shooting 51 percent to make their second-half comeback.
"I think they made some adjustments, but they also were making some tough 3-point shots," Bigler said of the NSU resurgence. "Sometimes that's just part of the game; where they're missing some of those shots early on, in the second half they were able to build a little confidence. They were stepping up and they were making shots. I think they're a talented team and they're not just going to fade away."
With their first win on a Friday in six tries, the Mustangs will look to build off this game as they continue the NSIC regular season with Minnesota State-Moorhead tonight in Moorhead.
"More than anything we've been focused in on finishing ball games and how to change our tempo and make sure we get good shots," Bigler said. "Defensively, we need to continue to mix it up and keep teams off balance. I thought that worked well tonight. We were able to keep them guessing as to what defenses we were in and we held them to 40 percent field goal percentage, which we'll take that every game if that's what we can do."