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MEN'S BASKETBALL: Baumgartner elevating play in heightened role for BSU

Bemidji State sophomore Zach Baumgarnter (23) pulls up for a jumper in a win over Minnesota Crookston on Saturday, Dec. 1, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- More minutes, more points, more dunks. Everything is growing for 6-foot-8 sophomore Zach Baumgartner this season.

“Coach talked to me at the beginning of the season. He said, ‘I don’t really need you to score. I just need you to come and bring energy,’” Baumgartner said. “Seeing the floor more, it just helps me bring me more energy. I get pumped up when I get to play, and I know my teammates like to see me in, too.”

As a redshirt freshman for the Bemidji State men’s basketball team a year ago, Baumgartner averaged 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 7.3 minutes. This season, he’s beefed up his numbers to 8.6 points and 4.4 boards in 12.8 minutes of work off the bench.

“He’s someone who can give us a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. “He’s athletic. When he keeps it simple, I think he’s very, very effective for us. He’s done a nice job in most of the games that he’s played this year. I expect good things when I put him in the game.”

Baumgartner has also upped his field goal percentage from 49.2 percent to 59.4 this year. That, in part, helped him open the season with three straight double-digit scoring nights, including a double-double performance of 13 points and 12 rebounds in the season opener.

“Zach’s been huge for us, mainly defensively, rebounding. He’s been a stud this year,” said junior forward Logan Bader. “This year he’s really slowed down, and he’s really stepping up big for our team and making big plays.”

Baumgartner and the Beavers are out to a 4-1 start to the season after an overtime thriller over Minnesota Crookston started the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedule on Dec. 1. They’ll now put their 3-0 home record on the line when they host Northern State and Minnesota State Moorhead this weekend.

“If you get a win, you have one day to feel good about yourself, celebrate a little bit,” Baumgartner said of the UMC victory. “The next day, it’s right back to work. We’ve had that mindset every year. So Monday, we got right back to work and started preparing for the next opponent.”

The Wolves (5-2, 1-0 NSIC) come to town first as the defending national runner-ups. And while they’re not an exact replica of the team that came within two points of a national championship, BSU’s drive to improve will still be tested against some of the conference’s best.

“Northern and Moorhead have great reputations, great programs. They’ve got great coaches,” Boschee said. “We’re not the most experienced group, but we do have guys returning who understand how difficult our league is. … We’ll probably have to play a little bit better than we did last week to get victories.”

Tipoff against NSU is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at the BSU Gymnasium, where Bemidji State will then take on the Dragons (6-3, 0-1 NSIC) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. The early-season tests are more opportunities for the Beavers to better understand themselves, as well.

“I (have already) learned that we play together so well,” Baumgartner said. “Towards the end of the game, when it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty, we all just can lean on each other. You can lean right, you can lean left, and there’s always someone there to support you. I think that’s a big thing this year.”

Boschee sees it, too. Part of that equation is Baumgartner, who, at 6-foot-8, hasn’t had much trouble rising to the challenge of taking on a bigger role this year.

“It’s a good group,” Boschee said. “They’re unselfish. They play pretty hard. Zach’s one of those guys that’s improved. That’s the expectation that we have for all of our players.”

Micah Friez

Micah Friez covers Bemidji State basketball and BSU for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Beaver basketball updates.

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