Mustang women hang tough but Huskies escape with 77-70 win

MARSHALL – On a night where they shot a season-high 55 percent from the floor and received 24 points from their bench, the Southwest Minnesota State women’s basketball team did just about everything necessary to pick up its first win over St. Cloud State in five tries. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, however, just about was not enough as they fell to the Huskies 77-70 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game Friday night at the R/A Facility.

“I think they need to use this as momentum,” SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said of her team’s narrow defeat. “We didn’t come away with the win, but we came into this focused on competing and I thought we competed pretty hard tonight. A couple lulls in the game and that’s just something that a team like us, we can’t have. Our kids fought tonight and they fought hard. I’m really proud of their effort and we need to do that again tomorrow night.”

One of those lulls occurred during the opening four minutes of the second half as a 12-4 SCSU run extended its four-point halftime lead to 12 points at 48-36 with 16 minutes, seconds to play. Kruger quickly called a timeout to slow down a game on the verge of spinning out of control.

“We just kind of talked about what we needed to do and it was defensively, we were just being soft,” Kruger said of her pep talk during the timeout. “And that’s what got us in trouble in the first half when they made their little run to come back.”

The Mustangs (1-12 overall, 0-8 NSIC) had led 24-14 with 7:05 to play in the opening half before turnovers and fouls sparked SCSU to 22-8 run to close out the first half.

Following the early timeout after halftime, it was the Mustangs turn for an extended run. SMSU answered by outscoring the Huskies 22-4 over the next six minutes and took a 58-52 lead with 10:26 left in the game.

SCSU (11-1, 7-1) battled back to regain the lead off of three of Jessica Benson’s game-high 32 points at 63-62 with 5:33 remaining.

“I think the frustrating thing is we didn’t play early defense on her and she’s the type of kid where you have to play early defense on her to prevent her from getting touches down low,” Kruger said of Benson, who scored eight of the Huskies final 14 points. “We were trying to wait and steal the passes coming in, and you can’t do that on a kid like that. We talked about that after the game. We have to play earlier defense and prevent those passes from getting in to her.”

Ellen Degler, who finished the game with 16 points, tied the game at 70 with a layup off an inbounds pass, but the Mustangs would not score again as SCSU closed the game on a 7-0 run over the final 2:21.

The Mustangs were led offensively by Bree Holleman’s 17 points and seven rebounds. Playing a combo-guard role for the Mustangs, Holleman finally had the breakout game that Kruger and the rest of the Mustangs had been waiting for.

“It was really nice to get Bree rolling,” Kruger said. “The thing is, she did it by getting some easy, close baskets early on and that’s what we’ve been talking about. When you’re a shooter and you’ve been struggling, you want to make some big 3s, but you’ve got to do it from the inside out. She did a really good job of that tonight and did a great job at the point guard position for us tonight.”