Of all the games the Bemidji State men’s basketball team played in the regular season, the Beavers’ Jan. 18 loss at Winona State may have stung the most.
BSU led almost the entire way and blew an 11-point halftime advantage before the Warriors rallied for a 70-67 victory at Winona’s McCown Gymnasium.
The Beavers (16-11) get a chance to redeem themselves this weekend, as they travel back to Winona to take on the Warriors (24-6) in the quarterfinals of the NSIC Tournament. Tip-off is today at 6 p.m.
“We played pretty well and still weren’t able to win,” BSU senior forward Mason Walters said. “So we have to play even better, somehow, if we want to come out and win this weekend.”
In January’s game, the Beavers led for much of the first half and the entire second half until the Warriors took a late lead.
The teams exchanged baskets for the game’s final three minutes until a pair of missed free throws with just over a minute to go came back to haunt BSU.
Winona big man Clayton Vette scored a game-high 30 points for the Warriors against the Beavers, but BSU countered with the 1-2 punch of Lance Rongstad (24 points) and Dermaine Crockrell (10 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).
“We really got out and ran a lot last time,” Walters said. “We got their bigs moving. Their big guy, Vette, kind of had his way with us inside, but I think we held the rest of them in check.
Vette leads the Warriors in nearly every statistical catergory, including points (20.7) and rebounds (8.3) per game.
The Beavers don’t have anyone averaging 20 ppg, but Rongstad, Crockrell and Walters average double figures and junior center Zach Noreen is almost there (9.4 ppg). Walters thinks Rongstad and Crockrell can again be the difference-makers.
“I think we can do that again this time,” he said. “I mean, when Dermaine and Lance are playing well they’re pretty much unguardable.”
Still, the Beavers don’t have any delusions: They know tonight’s game will again go down to the final seconds. Winona is currently ranked No. 21 in the NABC National poll and No. 2 in the NCAA Central Region poll.
“(Winona) has proven that they’re a great team in our league, and in the whole NCAA,” Noreen said. “We know what to expect with them. We’re not going to expect to go in there and blow them out, but we all know we have a chance to win.”
And why not? The Beavers have already knocked off two of the conference’s – and the country’s – top teams in MSU Mankato and St. Cloud State.
Don’t count on any of the Beavers being satisfied with past victories, however – they know they need to win today, then win twice more to make the NCAA tournament.
“It’s just one game,” Noreen said. “You can’t take that for granted and be happy about it, because this is going to be the toughest game of the season. It’s win- or-go-home at this point, against one of the top teams in the nation.”