Cougars stun Mustang men

Same story, different day is what Southwest Minnesota State head men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler said after his team blew another second-half lead.

The Sioux Falls Cougars came back from a 15-point deficit in the final nine minutes to stun the Mustangs with a 67-65 win in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action Tuesday night in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Mustangs (8-9 overall, 5-5 NSIC) have held a lead in the final three minutes of all five of their conference losses.

Bigler was at a loss for words to explain how his team hasn’t learned its lesson in closing out games.

“There’s really not a whole lot you can say after this amount of games that we’ve lost in this scenario,” Bigler said. “It comes down to guys holding themselves accountable. At the end of games, you have guys who make plays and guys who watch, and we have too many guys watching right now.”

USF’s Bill Freeman entered the game with just three made 3-pointers this season but hit his third 3 of Tuesday’s game with 25 seconds left to give the Cougars (7-7, 3-7) a 63-61 lead that they wouldn’t give up. Freeman averaged less than three points per game entering the contest and finished with 13 off the bench, as did fellow reserve Bryan Kielpinski.

Vinard Birch had 15 points and four assists to lead the Mustangs. Jordan Miller and center Nick Smith also reached double figures, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively.

The Mustangs shot 47 percent in the first half and built a 32-25 lead. Their lead grew to 54-39 with 9:15 left in the game followed by a 3-pointer by William Giddings before USF went on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to three with 6:30 remaining.

Bigler said the team struggled to execute on both ends of the court down the stretch.

“We had four turnovers in the last eight minutes,” he said. “And we had some defensive breakdowns, too. We were in a zone, went to man, then went back to zone and couldn’t find a defense where all of our guys were on the same page. That stems from a lack of leadership and communication on the floor.”

The Mustangs will try to bounce back Friday when the team heads to Aberdeen, S.D., to face Northern State.