With the NSIC championship safely secured the Bemidji State University men's basketball players and coaches have now turned their attention to the next phase of the season - the league playoffs.
The top-seeded Beavers begin a journey they hope will end with the conference tournament championship 7 p.m. Wednesday when they entertain No. 8 Wayne State.
A victory in this game would be rewarded with a trip to Taylor Arena in Rochester for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. semifinal and, hopefully, Sunday's 4:30 p.m. championship game.
"When we cut the nets after Saturday's win (over Winona State) my main thought was don't fall off the ladder," said Beaver coach Matt Bowen. "No matter what happens the rest of the way no one can ever take away our conference championship.
"That was a reward for an entire season of work. But now we will try and do it again in a season that will last one week," the coach added.
Wednesday's other quarterfinal pairings see No. 4 MSU Moorhead entertaining No. 5 Augustana, second-seeded Southwest Minnesota State hosting No. 7 UMD and third-ranked St. Cloud State entertaining No. 6 Winona. If BSU wins Wednesday it will face the Moorhead-Augustana winner Saturday in Rochester.
"We have just won a marathon but now we are in a sprint," Bowen said. "And to win the sprint you need to win three games in a row."
Bemidji State takes a 21-7 record into Wednesday's action while Wayne State is 10-16. On Jan. 8 the Beavers downed the Wildcats 67-61 in Nebraska behind the 16-point efforts of James Ellisor and Lance Rongstad and Bryce Tesdahl's nine rebounds.
"That game was the back end of our longest road trip of the season," Bowen remembered. "We lost the night before in double overtime at Augustana (103-93) and winning on that Sunday afternoon at Wayne was big for us."
The lessons learned that day about how to beat the Wildcats, however, can be thrown out the window.
"At that time Wayne State was reliant on a playing big game," Bowen said. "But since then it has gone to a small, quicker lineup and has concentrated on improving its defense. Wayne State has made so many changes since then that it is almost like playing a different team."
Bowen and the Beavers are doing what they can to make the necessary adjustments in their game plan. And they assume that the coaching staff at Wayne State is doing the same thing.
"The bottom line for us is to continue to do what we have been doing," Bowen, whose team is 6-1 in its last seven games, said. "We're not going into this game with a defensive mind set. With the players we have and with what we run, if we play well teams will have to adjust to us."