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Bemidji State men's basketball in the hunt for NSIC title

The race for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men's basketball title broke wide open this week when the NCAA levied a nullification penalty on league-leading Winona State for using an ineligible player in 13 games this season.

Bemidji State is one of five teams with a chance at winning the NSIC title with the Warriors out of the picture.

"We're in a four-game season," BSU head coach Matt Bowen said. "Those who win will be rewarded and those who lose will have to lick their wounds and move on."

The fourth-place Beavers (17-7 overall, 12-6 NSIC) are on the road this weekend to face Southwest Minnesota State on Friday at 8 p.m. and Minnesota State University, Mankato on Saturday at 6 p.m.

"It's always a difficult road trip and Brad Bigler is an outstanding (SMSU) head coach," Bowen said. "Mankato is one of the premier programs in the league and the country that has just fallen on some hard times this year. They are always dangerous at their place."

The Beavers are a half-game behind SMSU (14-9, 13-6 NSIC) in fourth place of the newly adjusted standings. Mankato is in 10th place at 7-16 (6-13 NSIC).

MSU, Moorhead is 1 1/2 games ahead of BSU in second place and St. Cloud State leads the league 2 1/2 games ahead of BSU.

The Beavers would have the edge in second place if the Dragons did not cap the two-game season sweep with an 84-77 overtime win last Saturday at BSU Gymnasium.

"I felt like I didn't do a very good job managing the end of the game," Bowen said. "Obviously we didn't make free throws, but more importantly we had the lead with 20 seconds left on the clock and I wanted my team to be better prepared to handle that. We didn't handle it the way I would have liked to and that's nobody's fault but my own."

Bemidji State will close out the regular season next weekend at home against Upper Iowa and Winona State.

Winona State (22-2, 17-1 NSIC) dropped to fifth place in the standings because of the nullification penalty, which deducted .299 off its winning percentage.

The Beavers will make the NSIC playoffs (top eight teams) and will host a first-round playoff game if it can finish the season fourth place or better.

"This is a little bit different time for Bemidji State basketball and my program because we control our own fate," Bowen said. "All you've got to do is win ... As a coach and a player, that's a great thing to have."

BSU women

The Bemidji State women's basketball team (8-15, 6-12 NSIC) face SMSU on Friday at 6 p.m. and Mankato on Saturday at 4 p.m.

BSU enters the weekend on a three-game losing streak after falling to Minnesota-Crookston 77-73 and MSU, Moorhead 95-93 in a triple overtime defeat last weekend at home.

Ellie Wessling, Kate Warmack, Samantha Baldwin, Morgan Lee and Shannon Thompson each reached double-figures scoring in the marathon with Wessling leading the way with 21 points.

SMSU enters the weekend 5-18 (4-15 NSIC) and Mankato is 15-8 (11-8 NSIC).