Strong defense leads SMSU men past Crookston

The Southwest Minnesota State men’s basketball team ramped up the defense and snapped a two-game losing streak with a 63-54 win over Minnesota-Crookston in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game Saturday in Crookston.

The Mustangs (12-11 overall, 9-7 NSIC) held the Golden Eagles to just 32.7 percent shooting, the lowest by an SMSU opponent this season, en route to the win. Crookston (3-17, 0-16) had no players reach double figures in scoring in the loss.

Guard Vinard Birch led a balanced scoring effort for the Mustangs. He had 14 points, while Jordan Miller scored 13, and Matt Zager and Lavione West each chipped in 12.

The Mustangs led 27-25 at halftime and went on a couple of different runs in the second half. They took their largest lead after Zager made a layup with six minutes, 30 seconds left to put his team up 56-46. UMC responded with an 8-2 run to cut the lead to four, but Birch converted a 3-point play and Zager threw down a dunk in the final minute to seal the win for SMSU.

SMSU shot 43 percent from the field for the game and had a 36-33 edge on the boards.

UMC has now lost 17 straight games, and has lost 16 straight in its series with the Mustangs.

The Mustangs open up a four-game homestand Friday against the University of Mary.