ROCHESTER – For the middle 28 minutes of the game, Bemidji State noticeably out-played No.7 Minnesota State in the championship game of the NSIC Tournament Saturday in Rochester. But BSU scored just two points in the opening six minutes and just six in the last six minutes.
Those lapses proved fatal as the Beavers lost 73-68 to the top-ranked team in the conference.
“Those two runs were big for them,” senior forward Mason Walters said. “They are a good team and made plays down the stretch.”
For the second day in a row, the Beavers fell behind early. A pair of 3-pointers by Connor O’Brien sparked an 11-0 Mavericks run in the game’s first five minutes.
“Obviously, you want to start every game off well, but Mankato is really good and slapped us in the face early on,” Bemidji State head coach Mike Boschee said. “I still had faith in our guys that they could come back.”
BSU responded by scoring on its next three possessions following the first media timeout and cut the deficit to six points at 12-6.
MSU’s lead reached 12 points at 22-10 with 7:38 remaining in the first half but BSU stormed back with a 12-0 run to tie the game for the first time five minutes before the break.
Jake Schalow’s second 3-pointer within a 2-minute span gave the Beavers their first lead at 31-28 with 1:30 left on the clock.
BSU’s last four made field goals of the first half all came from behind the arc. The Beavers made eight of their last 11 shots to end the half after starting out 4-of-21.
“That was huge,” Boschee said of the 3-point shooting to end the half. “When we get shots to fall from out there it spaces everyone out and makes our offense look really good. It also opens up the lane for Lance and Dermaine to attack.”
“That helped us out a lot,” Walters added. “We made a run that got us back in the game and it gave us some momentum heading into the second half.”
The Beavers overcame their slow start to take a 34-33 lead to the locker room at the break.
BSU started the second half shooting just as well as it did to end the first half. A behind-the-back bounce pass from Jason Edwards set Walters up for a wide-open 3-pointer to give BSU its largest lead - up to that point - at 43-38 with 17:20 to play.
The basket was one of four 3-pointers by Walters who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
MSU did not regain a lead until the 8:38 mark, following a layup from Assem Marei.
Lance Rongstad, who paced Bemidji State’s offense with 20 points, answered with a pair of layups to put the Beavers back ahead at 62-59 with 6:57 left in the game.
Following Rongstad’s second layup, however, the Beavers went more than six minutes without scoring. The drought also included five turnovers in six possessions.
“The game became a game of match-ups down the stretch,” Boschee said. “They did a really good job defensively. The turnovers really hurt us.”
Dermaine Crockrell ended the scoring drought with a 3-pointer over a pair of defenders to bring the Beavers within 67-65 with 29 seconds remaining.
Crockrell finished with 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
BSU only had committed three team fouls up to that point so the Beavers had to commit four fouls in order to get the Mavericks to the free throw line. BSU managed to commit its four fouls in just four seconds and sent Jaymeson Moten - who had only attempted six free throws all season long - to the charity stripe.
Moten calmly made both free throws to give the Mavericks a four-point lead with 25 seconds left.
Crockrell and Rongstad each air-balled 3-pointers in the following possessions and Jarvis Williams sealed the game and the conference championship at the free throw line.
Williams was voted Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and scored 20 points for the second consecutive night.
Crockrell, Walters, Marei, and O’Brien rounded out the All-Tournament Team.
The run to the conference championship was one that defied the preseason coaches’ poll that ranked the Beavers 12th in the NSIC.
“I think that says a lot about the character on this team,” Walters said. “Coming into the year, I don’t know how many people expected a successful season out of us, but we did. Now we just have to sit back and hope that we can sneak into the regional. If not, we can look back and be proud of what we did.”
“The leadership, fight, and desire that the seniors have shown has been a joy for me to coach,” Boschee said. “The seniors will be sorely missed. They have left an imprint on the program that will last several years; I just wish I could have one more year with them.”
With the loss, Bemidji State does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will hope for the best in tonight’s selection show.
The selections will be aired online at 9:30 p.m. Fans, students and family are welcome to join the Beavers in the Beaver Pride Room on campus at 9 p.m. today to watch the selections.
Bemidji State (68): Rongstad 20 7-15, 5-5, Walters 19 6-15 3-4. Crockrell 14 5-11 1-2, Noreen 7 3-12 0-4, Schalow 6 2-2 0-0, Rosenbloom 2 1-3 0-0, Edwards 0 0-1 0-0. Totals 68 24-59 9-15.
Minnesota State (73): Williams 20 7-14 6-6, Marei 19 8-15 3-4, O’Brien 11 4-7 1-2, Monaghan 7 2-10 2-2, Wooten 7 3-7 1-2, Moten 5 1-1 2-2, Romashko 4 2-3 0-0, Brown 0 0-0 0-0. Totals 73 27-59 15-18.
Halftime: Bemidji State 34 Minnesota State 33