Slow start dooms SMSU men in 72-57 loss to BSU

A scoreless stretch of nearly 10 minutes to end the first half proved too much to overcome for the Southwest Minnesota State men’s basketball team Friday night in Bemidji.

The Mustangs trailed Bemidji State 34-18 at the half and were unable to recover as the Beavers ran away with a 72-57 win in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play.

The cold stretch to end the first half was clearly costly for the team, and Mustang head coach Brad Bigler said it stemmed from a combination of two things.

“Defensively, we had a difficult time of rebounding the basketball,” he said. “Then on offense we were settling for some very difficult shots and not playing unselfish basketball.”

The Mustangs were out-rebounded 28-15 in the first half and 44-36 for the game. They also finished with just nine assists.

Bemidji State (10-9 overall, 8-7 NSIC) is a bit of a different team than what the Mustangs saw last year in that the Beavers are without forward James Ellisor, who was named the Daktronics NCAA Division II player of the year as a senior last season. The Beavers seem to be getting along just fine without him, however, as they had four players score in double figures on Friday. Lance Rongstad led the team with 18 points, Dermaine Crockrell chipped in 16 points, and forward Mason Walters added 13 points and 13 rebounds.

“This team has a lot of experience,” Bigler said. “They have guys who were role players last year who are now stepping into bigger roles. Those players really hurt us in regard to rebounding the basketball and they made us pay when we left them open shots.”

SMSU had four players combine for 53 of their 57 points. Jordan Miller hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 19 points, center Nick Smith had 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Vinard Birch tallied 11 points, and Tramel Barnes finished with nine.

The Mustangs managed to mount a run midway through the second half. They trailed 39-23 six minutes into the half but oustcored BSU 13-1 over the next four minutes. They cut the lead to four on a 3-pointer by Miller, but the Beavers quickly pumped the lead back up to double figures less than two minutes later and held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

Friday was the second straight game SMSU, which leads the NSIC in field goal percentage, was held under 40 percent shooting. They finished the game at 39.7 percent and also committed 17 turnovers.

“By us not scoring the basketball, it affected us in all areas of the game. We can’t let that happen,” Bigler said. “Our bench had an off night and we’re going to struggle when we don’t get scoring off the bench.”

SMSU will look to snap a two-game skid when the Mustangs face Minnesota-Crookston today at 6 p.m. in Crookston.