Mustang women start slow, fall short

MARSHALL – Alison Nagel stepped to the free throw line with 6.5 seconds left in regulation needing to make good on her two attempts to pull Southwest Minnesota State even with Minot State in a game the Mustangs had trailed throughout.

Her first attempt was off the mark, and when she tried to intentionally miss the second attempt to allow for on offensive rebound, teammate Rebekah Rolling was called for a lane violation.

Minot State guard Sacarra Molina coolly drained her two attempts after getting fouled two seconds later, giving her a game-high 20 points and clinching a 64-60 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference victory for the Beavers Saturday at the R/A Facility.

SMSU’s late missed opportunity at the foul line had far less significance in the defeat than the Mustangs’ continued trend of slow starts. After falling behind the University of Mary 16-0 in a loss the previous night, the Mustangs spotted Minot State a 28-8 advantage to open Saturday’s game before they finally found their stride.

Mustang head coach Allison Kruger said her team played with a purpose in the second half as it came all the way back to pull to within a possession. It was a purpose that simply wasn’t there in the first 12 minutes of the opening half.

“I talked to them after the game and said, ‘Look where we could have been if we hadn’t dug ourselves such a big hole,'” Kruger said. “It could have been a nice victory for us. We have to find a way to come out stronger and ready to go in games.

“I don’t know, we might mix it up in practice and see what happens this week. We have to get back to starting games strong because it’s exhausting when you have to battle back that far.”

Minot State (11-11 overall, 7-1 NSIC) connected on four 3-pointers during its opening 28-8 run. SMSU (4-20, 2-16) had six turnovers in that span.

SMSU freshman guard Annessa Rosch hit a jumper out of a timeout to stop the bleeding and spark an 8-0 run. When some shots started to fall, the Mustangs picked up their energy on both ends and used hustle plays to try to turn the momentum in their favor. They turned the ball over just once in the last eight minutes, 30 seconds of the half as they cut the Minot lead to 34-26 by halftime.

The Mustangs came out focused for the start of second half.

Rosch and Molina exchanged deep 3s in the early moments, then Rosch hit another three minutes into the half to cut the lead to five. She finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Then it was Nagel’s turn to go to work. Recognizing a mismatch in the post, the 6-foot-3 forward demanded the ball on three straight possessions and scored all three times to bring the Mustangs within three points with 12:52 left in the game. She finished with 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

“We need to have that mentality all game long and that’s something that we’ve talked about. If you see a mismatch, there’s no reason Alison Nagel shouldn’t get the basketball every single time,” Kruger said. “She’s tough on the block and it makes the defense adjust. We have to do a better job of recognizing that.”

From there, it seemed every time the Mustangs scored the Beavers had an answer as their lead fluctuated from two to seven points the rest of the way.

Minot State led by six after guard Alisha Jones scored two of her 11 points on a tough pull-up jumper at the elbow with 1:36 on the clock. Rolling responded with a baseline jumper on an inbounds play under SMSU’s basket, and after a turnover by Jones, SMSU freshman guard Mikayla Saathoff put in a contested one-handed runner in the lane to cut the lead to 62-60 with 42 seconds left.

Instead of running down the shot clock, Jones elected to take a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left and missed. Rolling, who finished with 10 points, was off on her attempt to tie the game with eight seconds remaining, but Nagel grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled.

The Mustangs didn’t get any points from Nagel’s trip to the foul line and the comeback bid came up just short, but Kruger couldn’t fault the effort of her team down the stretch.

“We didn’t get defeated, we just took it one possession at a time and closed the game,” she said “That’s what you want out of your team.

“We just came up a little bit short at the end. There’s no one play, it’s not the missed free throws. That’s not the reason we didn’t come away with the win. It’s because of the first 15 minutes of the game we didn’t come away with the win. Other than that, I thought we played a tough game.”

SMSU will close out its home schedule next weekend with games against Wayne State (Friday) and Augustana (Saturday).