Augie men snatch key game vs. SMSU

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State needed a win to improve its chances of hosting a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament game. Augustana College needed a win to cover up the taste of losing to its bitter intra-city rival, the University of Sioux Falls, the previous night and to stay ahead of the Mustangs in the division standings.

Saturday night’s game between the Mustangs and Vikings had plenty riding on it, and that was readily apparent with the intensity and emotion on display inside the R/A Facility. But on SMSU’s senior night, it was Augustana senior guard Cameron McCaffrey who stole the show, scoring a game-high 28 points while helping his team shoot a season-high 59.6 percent from the field in a 92-82 victory.

McCaffrey partnered with a talented group of underclassmen to stave off the Mustangs down the stretch in a game that was close most of the way. Freshman forward Casey Schilling, an Ellsworth graduate, came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points and grab six rebounds. Sophomore guard/forward Alex Richter added 15 points, and freshman center Daniel Jansen added 12 points and seven boards. Jansen made just half of his 16 free throws, but, most importantly, he got SMSU center Nick Smith to foul out with just over five minutes left in the game and the Mustangs were unable to overcome his absence.

Augustana’s 92 points were the most the Mustangs have given up in a game this season. SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said McCaffrey, who leads the NSIC in scoring at 20.5 points per game, had a huge role in helping the Vikings accomplish that feat in a game Bigler said had postseason intensity.

“He’s a guy who you can play great defense on and he still has the ability to knock down a tough shot,” Bigler said. “He’s what makes that team go. He has the ball in his hands for the majority of the time. He’s the guy who’s setting everybody up and making the plays. He’s the guy who’s drawing attention on the ball screens. He’s the guy that’s going to have the ball in his hands to make plays at the end of the shot clock.”

Mustang senior forward Lavione West gave everything he had Saturday to try to get SMSU the victory, finishing with a career-high 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting. He threw down a couple of dazzling dunks during the game, including an alley-oop slam over a pair of Augustana players while taking contact midway through the second half to cut the deficit to two.

West also had the task of guarding McCaffrey through stretches of the game, but his length and athleticism were unable to slow the Viking guard down.

“I have to give a lot of credit to McCaffrey, he can do it all,” West said. “Mid-range, at the rim, 3-pointers, I mean, it’s one of those times when he was hitting, and once he gets going, there aren’t too many people who can slow him down.”

The Mustangs came out blazing to start the game, grabbing an 11-4 lead in the first three minutes and forcing Augustana head coach Tom Billeter to call a timeout. SMSU guards Matt Zager and Jordan Miller each hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the half, and Smith went 4-for-5 in the half for 11 points.

After SMSU’s initial run, Billeter had his team switch to a zone defense and it slowed down the game, creating a pace that better favored his team.

McCaffrey and Schilling knocked down back-to-back 3s midway through the half to cut the lead from nine to three. Augustana grabbed its first lead with eight minutes, 10 seconds left in the half when Schilling scored on a layup and the teams traded blows from there. A deep 3 by Miller with five seconds left in the half cut Augustana’s lead to 43-41 heading into the locker room.

Neither team led by more than five early in the second half as they both traded big shots. With 6:34 left in the game, Jansen powered his way up for a layup and drew the fourth foul on Smith. He made the subsequent free throw to push the Augustana lead to 76-68.

Miller drew a charge on the other end against Zach Huisken on the next Augustana possession to foul out the Vikings center, but then Jansen drew Smith’s fifth foul less than a minute later. SMSU went small from there, with the 6-foot-7 West and four guards on the floor as they tried to chip away at the lead.

“We were just trying to scramble and junk it up a little bit, really put some pressure on them,” Bigler said. “They took some quick shots, they did exactly what we wanted. There were a couple that rimmed out, and the ones they missed they were able to get some offensive rebounds. It was a challenging game in many aspects and they were the better team tonight.”

SMSU cut the lead to four on a couple of occasions, but was never able to get within a basket the rest of the way as the Vikings held on for the victory.

West scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half, while Miller finished the game with 17 points and six assists. Saturday could mark the final home game for those two, along with fellow seniors Tramel Barnes, Michael Appel, Jordan Buddenhagen and Tyler Peschong. West said that was definitely on his mind as the Mustangs scratched and clawed to keep pace with Augustana.

“We just wanted to come out and play with energy and give back for what Marshall and the community have given to us over the last four or five years,” West said.

It was a tough loss to take for the Mustangs, as their momentum from their four-game win streak was snapped and their chance at earning a home playoff game was reduced. But West said the defeat will only fuel the Mustangs’ competitive fire as they head into their final regular season games next weekend at Concordia-St. Paul and Minnesota State-Mankato.

“All of our goals are still intact,” West said. “We can still do what we want to do and reach our goals that we set out for at the beginning of the year. We just have to stay hungry, and I think tonight got our guys a little hungrier.”