MENS BASKETBALL: MSU completes sweep of Mustangs

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.- No. 15-ranked and top-seeded Minnesota State put together a late second half run to earn a hard-fought 68-57 victory over Southwest Minnesota State on Monday night in the semifinals of the NSIC/Sanford Health Tournament at the Sanford Pentagon.

The game was tied at 53 with less than six minutes remaining, but a 9-0 run over the next 2 minutes proved to be the difference in the game as the Mavericks advance to the championship game versus Winona State on Tuesday night. MSU, the regular season conference champions, improved to 28-4, while SMSU drops to 19-12.

The Mavericks held a 44-32 rebound advantage, including 15 offensive rebounds. MSU finished the game with a 13-2 advantage in second chance points.

Freshman Mitch Weg and the rest of the Mustangs battled the Mavericks for the third time this season and became very familiar with their opponent.

“They have four very good guys that have very different skill sets,” Weg said. “They are all good players and you have to bring your “A” game.”

William Giddings led SMSU with 16 points, while Vinard Birch chipped in with 12 points. Mitch Weg added six points and pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds.

SMSU finished the night shooting 40 percent (23 of 57) from the field and was 4 of 15 from 3-point range. SMSU shot just 31 percent in the second half, including 2 of 11 on 3-pointers.

Gage Wooten led MSU with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Tanner Adler scored 18 points on six 3-pointers.

Giddings was red-hot for the Mustangs in the game’s first eight-plus minutes scoring 12 of the team’s first 16 points to help SMSU build a 16-8 lead with 11 minutes and 33 seconds left in the opening half. MSU rallied with six straight points, but Birch answered with back-to-back field goals to push the lead to 20-14 with nine minutes remaining.

The Mavericks would trim the lead to one-point on four different occasions later in the half, including at 28-27, but a long 3-pointer by Bartlett and a layup by Birch gave SMSU a six-point lead at 33-27 with 1:40 left, before settling for a 33-29 halftime lead.

MSU quickly started the second half with four points to tie the game and later built a 43-39 lead at the 13:51 mark. Bartlett countered with a 3-pointer for SMSU and was followed by a field goal by Matt Zager to give the Mustangs a 44-43 lead, but the Mavericks came back with a 7-0 run, highlighted by a two 3-pointers by Adler to make the score 50-44 with 10:58 remaining.

SMSU came right back with its own run, scoring seven straight points, including four by Nick Smith, to regain the lead at 51-50 with 7:29 left. Adler then drilled another 3-pointer to put MSU back in front until Birch tied the game at 53 with a layup with 6:15 on the clock.

The Mavericks then put together the key 9-0 run starting with a layup by Assem Marei and capped by a Wooten 3-pointer to make the score 62-53 with 3:47 remaining and never looked back in defeating SMSU for the third time this season.

SMSU had leads for much of the game in two of the three losses, and it came down to execution down the stretch.

“I think it was a case of one team making shots and the other one going cold,” Weg said. “Going cold like we did will kill you when it’s two good teams.”

Tonight marked the final game for four Mustang seniors Vinard Birch, William Giddings, Nick Smith and Matt Zager.

Mustangs coach Brad Bigler talked about the impact these teams had on the program over the past four years.

“I couldn’t be happier for these guys and what they did for the program,” Bigler said. “They have come in and become great role models for the university and for the program. It is going to be hard to say goodbye. Their legacy is something that will be talked about for a long time.”

SMSU still has a slight chance at an at-large bid for the regional tournament.

The qualifying teams will be announced Sunday night.

SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA STATE (19-12 OVERALL): William Giddings 6-113-5 17, Vinard Birch 6-16 0-0 12, Mitch Weg 3-6 0-0 6, Shaun Condon 0-7 0-0 0, Travis Meinders 0-1 0-0 0, Joey Bartlett 2-3 2-2 8, Matt Zager 3-8 0-0 6, Nick Smith 3-5 2-2 8. TOTALS: 23-57 (40%) 7-9 (7%) 57.

MINNESOTA STATE (28-4 OVERALL): Zach Monaghan 2-7 0-0 4, Tanner Adler 6-14 0-0 18, Gage Wooten 7-11, 6-7 21, Connor O’Brien 3-7 8-10 14, Assem Marei 4-12 4-6 10, Grant Pope 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Hanks 0-2 0-0 0, Zach Romashko 1-2 0-0 2, TJ Okafor 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 23-58 (40%) 15-23 (65%) 68.

HALFTIME: MSU 29, SMSU 33. 3-POINT FIELD GOALS: SMSU 4-15 (Giddings 2-4, Bartlett 2-3); MSU 7-22 (Adler 6-13, Wooten 1-2). REBOUNDS: SMSU 32 (Weg 12); MSU 44 (Marei 10). TOTAL FOULS (FOULED OUT): SMSU 17 (None); MSU 9 (None). TECHNICAL FOULS: None. ASSISTS: SMSU 7 (Condon 4); MSU 15 (Monaghan 11). STEALS: SMSU 2 (Weg 1, Condon 1); MSU 3 (O’Brien 2). BLOCKED SHOTS: SMSU 5 (Smith 4); MSU 4 (Adler 1, O’Brien 1, Marei 1, Okafor 1). TURNOVERS: SMSU 7; MSU 8.