SMSU men cool off Golden Bears, earn 71-69 win

The Southwest Minnesota State men’s basketball team cooled off what was one of the hottest teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Friday night by defeating Concordia-St. Paul 71-69 in St. Paul.

After a rough start to the conference season, the Golden Bears had won five straight games, including an 89-74 win over No. 15 Winona State and a 69-67 win over Upper Iowa last weekend.

“They’re definitely a hot team and we feel like this is a quality win,” SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said. “Our guys executed well down the stretch. Concordia made some tough shots to stay in the game, but we were able to hold them off.”

CU (9-16 overall, 7-14 NSIC) grabbed an early seven-point lead in the first five minutes of the opening half against SMSU, but the Mustangs (16-12, 13-8) rallied near the end of the half and lead by as many as 11 points. They went into the locker room up 38-30.

The Mustangs led by 14 early in the second half before the guard Terez VanPelt and the Golden Bears began to chip away. VanPelt scored a game-high 21 points in the loss. A layup by CU’s DJ Lewis tied the game at 62 with just over seven minutes remaining before the offense slowed for both teams.

A layup by SMSU center Nick Smith with two minutes 1 second left pushed the SMSU lead to three, then Matt Zager knocked down a jumper with 24 seconds left to give the Mustangs a 71-66 edge.

VanPelt knocked down a 3 with two seconds left, but CU ran out of time to tie the game.

Smith finished with 20 points and four assists to lead the Mustangs in both categories.

“It just worked out tonight where the offense went through Nick,” Bigler said. “Our guards were making the right reads and we were able to get some nice action off Nick with him getting the ball and handing off to guys for baskets, and he also had a skip pass for the 3-pointer. Then he was also able to score effectively when he was matched up 1-on-1.”

Zager scored 16 points for the Mustangs, and seniors Lavione West and Jordan Miller each added 13.

Bigler said it was a very clean game, as the two teams combined for just 10 turnovers.

SMSU has a big matchup with Minnesota State-Mankato today in Mankato. The Mavericks are tied atop the conference with a 17-4 record and sport a 21-4 record overall. When the two teams met Dec. 14 in Marshall, SMSU gave up a late lead and lost 85-84. Bigler said the Mustangs have to be tougher this time around to get the win.

“The biggest key is going to be rebounding,” he said. “They’re the best rebounding team in the conference and they have some size mismatches on us. We can’t do anything about that, so that means we’re going to have to be tougher than them. Whoever is the tougher team will win the game.”