SMSU men’s hoops team escapes with OT win over Dragons

The Southwest Minnesota State men’s basketball team committed a season-low five turnovers and survived a 30-point game from one of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s top scorers to emerge with an 86-82 overtime win over Minnesota State-Moorhead Saturday in Moorhead.

Moorhead freshman guard Tyler Vaughan hit a 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation to force the extra period, where the Mustangs outscored the Dragons 12-8. Mustang guard Tramel Barnes sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 15 seconds remaining in overtime.

SMSU (10-9 overall, 7-5 NSIC) had just earned a one-point win over Northern State the previous night in Aberdeen, S.D., and Mustang head coach Brad Bigler said the key to capping off the road trip with a victory Saturday was more strong late-game execution.

“I think it goes back to before the weekend even started and our ability to handle the last five minutes of games better,” Bigler said. “We changed up some things in terms of having better patience, and in the last five minutes (Saturday) our guys were the ones who controlled the tempo. We got defensive stops when we needed to and were able to get good shots late in the shot clock.”

The Dragons (14-4, 8-4) got a game-high 30 points from 6-foot-4 senior guard Anthony Tucker, who hit 11 of his 16 shots, including five 3-pointers.

Tucker entered Saturday as one of the top two scorers in the NSIC at just under 21 points per game, and Bigler said shutting down Tucker wasn’t something the Mustangs were counting on.

“Tucker is a guy who’s going to have the ball in his hands the majority of the game,” SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said. “It’s tough to shut down a guy like that who’s such a good ball handler and playmaker. Our focus was on stopping the other guys because Tucker is going to get his.”

Tucker hit a 3 near the end of the first half to give Moorhead a 39-31 edge, it’s largest lead of the game. SMSU roared back to start the second half, firing off a 9-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by reserve guard Shaun Condon.

The Mustangs didn’t give up the lead the rest of the game, though the Dragons pulled even with SMSU seven times during the final stretch.

Barnes hit a pair of free throws to give SMSU a 74-71 edge with 20 seconds left before Vaughan hit his game-tying 3-pointer out of a timeout to send the game to overtime.

The Mustangs converted on five of seven possessions in overtime, and Barnes had a pair of steals and two more free throws to help give SMSU the win.

Barnes finished with 14 points, five assists and three steals.

“Tramel had a great game for us with his leadership and his ability to make big-time free throws,” Bigler said. “He played extremely well on the defensive end, and at the end of both of our games this weekend he was one of the main factors in us winning those games. He hit a back-door layup in overtime and just made a lot of plays during the game.”

Backcourt mate Vinard Birch added six points, four steals and four offensive rebounds that Bigler said helped provide some energy to the team when it needed it.

It was center Nick Smith who led the Mustangs in scoring, as the junior went 8-for-14 from the field and scored 18 points to go with nine rebounds. Matt Zager added 14 points, William Giddings chipped in 12 off the bench, and Jordan Miller had 11 points and six assists.

Bigler pointed out that a key stat was that Miller and Birch, two of the team’s top ball handlers, had zero turnovers in the game, which played a part in the Mustangs being able to get off nine more shots than the Dragons in the game despite being out-rebounded 41-31.

SMSU is back home next weekend, facing Upper Iowa Friday and Winona State Saturday for Hawaiian Night at the R/A Facility.