BEMIDJI – Clutch foul shooting, a career milestone and a star player playing with four fouls: It all added up to a big win for the Bemidji State men’s basketball team Saturday night.
The Beavers held on to knock off No. 22 St. Cloud State 75-71 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season finale for both teams at the BSU Gymnasium.
BSU (15-11, 13-9 NSIC) went 17-of-19 from the free throw line in the second half, Mason Walters scored his 1,000th point as a Beaver and Dermaine Crockrell scored 17 points despite playing with four fouls for much of the second half.
“I told our guys in the locker room that I was glad it’s St. Cloud State we’re playing in this final game,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. “I think this is preparing us for what’s to come. St. Cloud’s a great program, a great team. It’s nice for us to overcome some of that adversity in a big game like this and use it to springboard into the playoffs.
The Huskies (19-7, 15-7 NSIC) defeated the Beavers 68-60 met in St. Cloud way back on Dec. 7. The Beavers led for much of that game but were unable to hit their foul shots or hang onto the ball at the end.
This time around, it was a different story.
“I think it just shows that we matured as a team,” Crockrell said of getting the win Saturday. “We came a long way from the beginning of the season when we weren’t finishing out those close games. But it’s not how you start, its how you finish. We’re finishing well now.”
Although BSU trailed 38-33 at halftime, a 7-2 run in the first two minutes of play – including a 3-pointer and a layup from Walters – tied the game up at 40-all with 17:55 to play.
From there the teams battled back and forth and exchanged leads seven times until the end of the game.
Walters hit two free throws at the 4:27 mark to give him his 1,000th career point and give the Beavers a brief lead. He finished the game with 12 points and 15 rebounds for another double-double.
BSU took the lead for good with just under 2 minutes to play.
A pair of foul shots from Lance Rongstad put BSU up 66-64 with 2:28 to go.
Rongstad, who also finished with 17 points to tie Crockrell’s points total, went 8-for-9 from the foul line.
Bemidji State never trailed again – although the Huskies stayed alive with big points from Shaun Jensen and Connor Neihaus.
Jensen finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-for-20 shooting and drained two 3-pointers. Neihaus scored 11 points, including two layups in the last minute and a half to keep the Huskies’ hopes alive.
However, the Beavers hit 7 of their next 8 free throws to keep the Huskies at bay.
Jake Schalow came off the bench to hit a pair with 7 seconds left. That gave BSU a 75-71 lead and iced the game.
“They hit their free throws down the stretch,” St. Cloud head coach Kevin Schlagel said.
“And we don’t have a matchup for Rongstad. He’s so strong, so versatile in what he can do. He hurt us.”
Boschee was glad the Beavers were able to convert from the foul line this time around.
“It’s been something we’ve struggled with,” he said. “When you get in these big ballgames, it’s something you have to do. You have to convert from the charity stripe, and we did tonight.”
With the win, the Beavers secured themselves a No. 3 seed in the NSIC tournament. They’ll take on No. 6 seed Wayne State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the BSU Gymnasium. The Wildcats (17-11, 11-11) defeated the Beavers 64-62 on Jan. 12 in Bemidji.
“This weekend helps our confidence a lot,” Walters said of the team’s mindset going into the conference tournament. “But we still know that Wayne’s a good team. We have to come out and play well.
“We also know we can beat the top teams too. It’s just a matter of us coming out, playing well and making a run.”
St. Cloud State (71) – Jensen 11-20 2-4 26; Levandoski 6-12 4-6 16; Niehaus 5-10 0-0 11; Fort 2-4 1-4 5; Bergstraser 2-2 0-1 4; Cruz 2-6 0-0 4; Brown 1-2 1-2 3; Faulk 0-1 2-2 2; Poydras 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 29-60 10-19 71.
Bemidji State (75) – Crockrell 7-14 0-1 17; Rongstad 4-11 8-9 17; Walters 3-13 5-5 12; Edwards 3-4 2-2 10; Noreen 4-9 0-0 9; Schalow 1-2 2-2 4; Jones 2-4 0-0 4; Rosenbloom 1-2 0-0 2; Farrington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 17-19 75.
Halftime Score – SCSU 38, BSU 33.
3-point goals SCSU 3-11; BSU 8-27
Rebounds SCSU 38 (Levandoski 6; Jensen 6; Fort 6), BSU 35 (Walters 15).
Total fouls – SCSU 20, BSU 18.