BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State men were looking to shake off an early-season loss to Wayne State with a statement tournament win at home.
The Beavers got exactly what they were looking for.
Four different Beavers scored in double figures and third-seeded BSU led from start to finish in a dominating 71-54 win over the sixth-seeded Wildcats in the first round of the NSIC/Sanford Health Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at the BSU Gymnasium. Wayne State beat Bemidji State 64-62 back on Jan. 12.
“It’s really shown that we’ve matured as a team since then,” BSU junior forward Maxie Rosenbloom said. “And any time you can get a big win like this late in the year, in February and March, it’s a building block. This will help our confidence roll over into Saturday night.”
The win advances Bemidji State (16-11) to Saturday’s tournament quarterfinals. They’ll travel to Winona to face Winona State at 8 p.m. The Warriors defeated University of Mary 77-64 in the first round.
“We’re just not satisfied,” said BSU senior guard Dermaine Crockrell, who scored 12 points in Wednesday’s rout. “Everyone stepped up and played their part tonight. Whenever we do that we dominate teams, and they’re a pretty good team.”
Unlike the last time the teams met, the Beavers asserted their dominance early and never looked back.
BSU shot out to an 8-2 lead in the first five minutes, in part because they were forcing the Wildcats (17-12) into taking some terrible shots.
Wayne’s first possession, in fact, was something of an omen for the rest of the game. The team’s leading scorer, Amry Shelby, missed a jump shot.
The Wildcats got the rebound, but Adol Aluong missed two 3-pointers before Crockrell got a rebound and fired it to BSU guard Jason Edwards, who made a layup in transition.
The Wildcats struggled to get anything going on offense early; after 10 minutes of play the Beavers led 16-8 and Shelby had scored 6 of Wayne’s points.
Crockrell said exploiting mismatch – namely, having post players come out and defend their guards – helped the Beavers set the tone.
“We were able to switch off our bigs,” he said. “Our bigs were guarding their guards for a little bit and really slowing them down, making them make tough decisions.”
The Beavers held the Wildcats to just 9-for-27 shooting (33.3 percent) in the first half. And most of those field goals came from Shelby. In fact, he scored 15 of Wayne’s 22 points in the opening frame.
At halftime the Beavers led 40-22, getting most of their points (34) inside, thanks to the mismatch they had with Mason Walters and Lance Rongstad.
“They did a lot of the same things they did against us the first time,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. “So the matchups that we were trying to get, we had our way with.
“They’re a team that likes to pressure, and press you, so we decided to be aggressive and attack their pressure. For the most part, we got what we wanted the whole night. The only time I think we weren’t able to do that was the second half. But after a little refocusing we got them back to attack the rim and we dominated the paint.”
Walters finished the game with a team-high 17 points and 9 rebounds while Rongstad scored 12 points. Overall, the Beavers outscored the Wildcats 48-30 in the paint and outrebounded them 39-28.
In the second half, the Beavers were able to shut down Shelby – he scored just 6 in the second half and finished with a game-high 21 – but the Wildcats were finally able to find other scoring options, getting points from Derrell Williams, LaTroy Wright and Ayron Worthington early in the half.
Wayne went on a mini 8-4 run to start the first half and cut into BSU’s lead a little bit, but a big 3-pointer from Zach Noreen with 16:46 to go brought the Beavers’ lead up to 19, at 49-30.
That proved to be the working margin for the rest of the game. BSU led by as many as 21 points in the second half and Wayne never managed to cut it to single digits.
“We were just a lot more aggressive this time around,” said Rosenbloom, who scored 8 points and grabbed 7 rebounds coming off the bench. “We stressed that early on. They were the ones pressuring last time. We couldn’t really back down from that. We had to get up and hit them in the mouth first that’s what we did tonight.”
Guard Jason Edwards was the Beavers’ fourth player in double figures, scoring 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Derrell Williams and Ayron Worthington each added 10 points for the Wildcats.
Now the Beavers will turn their attention toward Winona State, the No. 2 seed in the tournament and a team they played very well against earlier in the season. Boschee said he was encouraged by Wednesday’s performance but the Beavers must keep playing up as their competition gets better.
“It’s the playoffs,” the coach said. “It’s kind of a different setting. If you don’t play well you go home. It was nice for us to respond in that setting.
“But it gets tougher and tougher now and you’ve gotta be willing to do whatever it takes against quality teams. That’s of the upmost importance.”