BEMIDJI – Last season around this time, Southwest Minnesota State was 10-9 overall and 9-6 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference – in the middle of the pack in the conference standings.
From there the Mustangs went on a tear, winning nine of their next 10 games en route to an NSIC conference tournament victory and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament.
Bemidji State (9-9, 7-7 NSIC) finds itself in a similar position to the Mustangs of 2012 – fourth place in their division and playing good basketball as the season winds down.
As luck would have it, those very same Mustangs visit Bemidji this weekend as part of an NSIC doubleheader.
And by “very same,” one may take that literally – SMSU (11-10, 8-6 NSIC) returns all five starters from last year’s conference tournament champions.
The Beavers take on the Mustangs at 8 p.m. today before hosting Sioux Falls (7-11, 3-11 NSIC) at 6 p.m. Saturday to close out their four-game homestand.
SMSU’s Jordan Miller, who was first-team all conference last season, leads the team in scoring at 15.1 ppg. Vinard Birch, last season’s NSIC defensive player of the year, also started for the Mustangs last season, as did Tramel Barnes, Nick Smith and Matt Zager.
BSU head coach Mike Boschee doesn’t understand why SMSU has struggled so much with a cast like that.
“They have good guards, good length, good size, they defend, they score,” Boschee said. “They’re a good basketball team that I think got off to a poor start for whatever reason. But I think they’re starting to play a little bit better.”
The same could be said for the Beavers, who haven’t lost more than two games in a row but also have yet to really find a groove.
Their .500 record is somewhat deceiving. They’ve only been blown out twice – at MSU Moorhead and at Michigan Tech early in the year. And one could count at least five where the Beavers could – maybe should – have won only to let the lead slip away.
“We’ve had a couple close games slip out of our grasp,” junior forward Maxie Rosenbloom said. “We could very well be 12-6, 13-5 if we’d won a few of those.”
Junior guard Jake Schalow agreed, but said it’s not something the Beavers can dwell on or control.
“We finish a few of those games we’re sitting in second or third just in the north, looking at possibly two home games in the tournament, which would be huge,” he said. “But now we’ve just got to take care of the business that we still have in front of us and worry about the stuff that’s behind.”
The Beavers were able to finish off one of those close games Friday night against MSU Moorhead, rallying to win 76-75 in overtime.
And both Schalow and Rosenbloom came up big off the bench for the Beavers against the Dragons.
Schalow drained a 3-pointer midway through the second half that helped give the Beavers a bit of a cushion. Rosenbloom, meanwhile, had 3 blocks – including one on MSU’s Jordan Reiwer with 57 seconds to go in overtime that helped BSU regain possession and, eventually, take the lead.
Boschee said while starters Lance Rongstad, Dremaine Crockrell, Mason Walters and Zach Noreen are all playing well, having a deep bench with guys like Rosenbloom and Schalow has helped the Beavers this season – and should help them for this stretch run.
“Jake and Maxie and Michael (Farrington) coming off the bench last weekend gave guys a spark,” Boschee said. “Jake only played 15 minutes but he gives us a lift. He made a few shots and hit his free throws and has been giving us some good enthusiasm and we need that.
“Your starters are your players that are giving you the most minutes, and hopefully we can get them playing at a high level, but then the bench guys just need to come in and give us a lift. You do that, you have a good team.”
Women look for momentum
After last weekend’s landmark win over then division-leading Northern State, the BSU women hope to turn over a new leaf this weekend.
The Beavers (8-10, 4-10 NSIC) host Southwest Minnesota State at 6 p.m. today and Sioux Falls at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“It was a nice team effort against a team tied for first in north division,” BSU head coach Mike Curfman said of last Saturday’s 64-75 win over the Wolves. “We had some real good improvement in things we haven’t been doing well. We hadn’t been shooting the ball well, we shot the ball well. We hadn’t been shooting well from 3 and we shot the ball from 3. So overall I think it was just a good team effort.”
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement, especially this past weekend, I feel like we finally clicked,” said BSU guard Morgan Lee, who leads the team with 14.1 ppg. “That’s been the frustrating part this season. I feel like we haven’t gotten to where we can play.
“But definitely on Saturday we saw a lot of positives and I think that if we can continue to carry that we can finish with a good record.”
Today the Beavers host a SMSU team who has struggled just as much – if not more – than they have this season.
The Mustangs are 3-13 overall and are just 2-12 in conference play. They started the conference season 0-9 but recently picked up victories against Sioux Falls and Winona State. They have just one double-digit scorer in junior Alison Nagel (11.1 ppg); she’s also the team’s leading rebounder at 5.3 rpg.
On Saturday Sioux Falls comes to Bemidji sporting a 10-8 overall record and a 7-7 NSIC mark, including a win over North Division leaders St. Cloud State.
They’re fifth in the league in 3-point shooting (33.8 percent) and are first in the league defending against the 3.
Junior Laura Johnson leads the Cougars with 12.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg.