SMSU women start halves slow in loss to Bulldogs

MARSHALL – Poor starts to both halves put the Southwest Minnesota State women’s basketball team in a hole that proved to be too deep to climb out of against Minnesota-Duluth and its deliberate offense Saturday at the R/A Facility.

The Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to start the game, then opened the second half on a 15-4 run and rolled to a 62-50 victory in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action.

For the Mustangs, who dropped their 10th straight game and now sit at 1-13 overall (0-9 NSIC), it’s those lapses in play that have prevented the team from winning in the conference.

“We just weren’t very aggressive in those first minutes of each half,” SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said. “We let them dictate how we played in both of those stretches that we weren’t very good and we can’t do that. We have to dictate and we have to do it for 40 minutes.

“When you’re a team that’s really struggling and trying to find a way to do something, you can’t take one possession off and I think there were a couple times when we got out-hustled, and that one possession can be the difference in the ballgame. We just have to continue to dig in and find a way of putting a complete 40 minutes together.”

The Bulldogs (9-4 overall, 6-3 NSIC) got a game-high 19 points from guard Courtney Doucette, who was 7-for-10 from the field, and Katrina Newman poured in 13 points in the post. UMD had four players score nine or more points, while SMSU had none.

Duluth entered Saturday’s contest ranked dead last in the NSIC in field goal percentage at 36.6 percent. The Bulldogs opened the game by making nine of their first 10 field goal attempts as they jumped out to a 19-9 lead.

SMSU whittled away and got back in the game thanks to a 14-4 run, tying the score at 23 after a layup by Hope Bonlander with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the half. UMD went on a small run to end the half and led 33-27 at the break.

SMSU committed two turnovers less than two minutes into the second half and Duluth scored a layup and a 3-pointer off of them. Kruger called a timeout after Doucette drilled a 3 just 1:32 into the second half, but it didn’t stop the bleeding. The Bulldogs’ continued on a 15-4 run until the lead ballooned to 51-31. SMSU didn’t get back to within single digits until there was just over a minute left.

The Mustangs used a full-court press through most of the game and the Bulldogs were content with slowly working the ball up the court before getting into their offense, commonly not crossing the half-court line until 15 seconds or less were left on the shot clock. They had set plays to run at the end of the shot clock, either dumping the ball into the post or working off of screens to get good looks before the buzzer. SMSU commonly struggled defending in the post and adjusting to the ball screens.

“Our effort was good, our hearts are in the right place, but we have to get our hearts and minds on the same page,” Kruger said. “We have to play hard, we have to play tough, but we have to play smart at the same time and there were just too many times tonight we just didn’t play smart.”

SMSU forward Ellen Degler was 3-for-3 from the field and scored eight points for the Mustangs, who shot 46.5 percent from the field. Alison Nagel and Bree Holleman each added seven points.

The Mustangs open a three-game road stretch Tuesday when they take on Sioux Falls (S.D.). The Cougars defeated SMSU 77-66 on Dec. 1 in Marshall.