MEN'S BASKETBALL: Beavers fought through pandemic side effects in 2021
"A lot of teams had to go through a lot of different things," BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. "Some teams got to practice the whole time throughout the fall, some teams didn’t get to do much at all. It’s unique, and hopefully it’s done.”
BEMIDJI -- With a new ensemble of players, the Bemidji State men’s basketball team needed some time to build cohesion. But during the pandemic, the Beavers weren’t afforded that preseason necessity.
“It was really challenging for us,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. “We didn’t have a chance to go live and scrimmage -- do the things you need to do to get better -- until December sometime. That was a huge issue for maybe our slow start.
“It is what it is. It’s the COVID year, right? A lot of teams had to go through a lot of different things. Some teams got to practice the whole time throughout the fall, some teams didn’t get to do much at all. It’s unique, and hopefully it’s done.”
Bemidji State won its season opener but then lost six straight games against top-tier teams, plummeting to the bottom of the league standings. The Beavers found their footing toward the back half of the year, but Boschee said that such a slow start was detrimental in an already shortened season.
“It was difficult mentally, it was difficult physically,” he said. “Regardless of what you think you have with your team and how your team will respond throughout the year, it’s hard to figure out who you are… as a group. That was really a big challenge for us.”
The highlight of the year undoubtedly came on the season’s final day, when Derek Thompson broke the program’s single-game scoring record with 45 points against Minnesota Crookston. The victory was the fifth in six games for BSU, and Bemidji State ultimately fell just one game shy of a playoff berth.
That surge to the finish line gives Boschee hope for what could be with a group he still believes in.
“It gives us a blueprint moving forward, what we need to do and how we need to play,” he said. “How we’re going to utilize our players and the roles they’ve evolved into, the strengths they’ve found they may have and some of the weaknesses we had, which we want to stay away from.”
Thompson finished the season averaging 17.9 points per game, ranking fifth in the conference, and 6.3 rebounds to rank 12th. The senior forward landed a spot on the All-Conference Second Team, and he also climbed up to No. 7 on the Beavers’ all-time scoring list and No. 8 on the all-time rebounds list. He has a chance to climb even higher when he returns next season thanks to the NCAA’s coronavirus eligibility waiver.
Elsewhere individually, Nick Wagner is another senior who will return for 2021-22. He got in a rhythm late this season and finished with 13.8 ppg, while junior guard Mohamed Kone hit double-digits with 11.3 ppg. Kone also ranked fourth in the league with 4.3 assists per game. Griffin Chase and Cody Landwehr were solid contributors, as well, and those five made up the starting lineup in every single game on the season.
BSU finished the year 7-9 overall and 6-8 in NSIC play. Heading into the offseason and looking ahead to next winter, Bemidji State hopes it can carry over some of the solutions it found late in the year.
“Our focus just had to be on us and trying to grow, keep believing and keep working hard,” Boschee said. “(We’re) sticking to the process and we keep moving forward.”