BEMIDJI – The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedule-makers knew what they were doing.
The Bemidji State men’s basketball team hosts a pair of rivals in Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State in its final two regular season games this weekend.
Even under normal circumstances, Beaver players and fans alike would circle both games on the schedule.
But this weekend isn’t “normal circumstances.”
The Beavers (13-11, 11-9 NSIC) come into tonight’s 8 p.m. game against UMD sitting in third place in the NSIC standings and in prime position to host at least one conference tournament game. They control their own destiny, essentially, when it comes to getting a preferable seed.
And they’ll try and do it without focusing too much on beating the guy coaching on the opposite bench.
Former Bemidji State head coach took over the Minnesota Duluth job this season.
“It will be weird, no doubt,” BSU forward Mason Walters said. “We obviously get pretty amped-up for those games. You want to win those. But it’s still two more games that we want to come out and play well in.”
Senior forward Lance Rongstad agreed.
“Having (this game) be against coach Bowen brings up a lot of emotions,” he said. “You always want to play hard, show him that you’re still a good team without him. It’s not a revenge thing at all, just sort of a ‘prove it to him’ thing.”
The Beavers have already proved they can beat Bowen’s Bulldogs once this season, defeating UMD 66-55 Dec. 8 in Duluth.
That was the third conference game of the season for both teams. The Beavers agreed that wasn’t a good indication of how the Bulldogs (7-17, 5-15 NSIC) are playing now, especially with Bowen’s coaching style.
“We’re going to have to play hard,” Rongstad said. “Especially playing for him before, we know it takes a long time to figure that offense out. They have a full season under their belt now, they’re going to be twice the team they were back in December.”
UMD lost five games in a row in late January and early February but are currently on a two-game winning streak.
“Friday will be really emotional,” junior forward Maxie Rosenbloom said. “A lot of people will be really fired up about it. And he’s going to want to take one from us here, too, just as much as we want to take it to him. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
The Beavers currently sit in third place in the NSIC North division at 11-9. St. Cloud State sits in first place at 15-5 in the conference and 19-5 overall, while Northern State is second at 12-8 in the conference and 17-10 overall.
At least one win this weekend should secure the Beavers a home game in the conference tournament, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday. Minnesota State Moorhead is fourth at 10-10 in the conference and Minot State is fifth at 9-11.
Two wins, combined with a pair of Northern State losses, will secure a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and two home games.
How the rest of the conference games tonight and tomorrow play out will go a long way in determining just where the Beavers end up.
“We’d definitely like to be at home, but you can’t worry about that kind of stuff,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said.
“You just want to play well and win Friday and Saturday.”
Saturday’s game against St. Cloud State will pose a different test for the Beavers.
BSU traveled to St. Cloud Dec. 7 and nearly pulled off the upset of the than-No. 17 Huskies.
St. Cloud ended up taking control in the final minutes to capture the win, but the Beavers have proven they can hang with any of the top teams in the conference. They upset No. 9 Minnesota State Mankato two weeks ago.
“It will be a good test of character going in against one of the better teams in the league Saturday,” Rongstad said. “We just have to close. We had some success against them last time. And if we can hold (SCSU star Shaun Jensen) to an average game, we have a good shot of beating them. He’s a spectacular player.”
The Huskies lost leading scorer Theo Rothstein to a knee injury last weekend against MSU-Moorhead, which gives the Beavers an even better chance to pull off a win this weekend.
Boschee said he hopes the Beavers can control their emotions this weekend in order to win a pair of games.
“I want our guys to play with a lot of passion,” he said. “Wherever they draw their motivation from is fine as long as they can control it. We also have to treat it like it’s just another game. It’s gotta be.
“It’s an important couple games in the conference to put ourselves in the best possible position for seeding and the tournament. We’ve gotta look at the big picture of it rather than just playing the past coach.”