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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Former opponent Travis Bianco leads Beavers to opening win

The last time Travis Bianco played in a game featuring the Bemidji State men’s basketball team, he was behind enemy lines. Two years later, he’s sporting the Beavers’ green and white as one of the team’s most promising transfers.

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Bemidji State senior Travis Bianco (11) scores in the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The last time Travis Bianco played in a game featuring the Bemidji State men’s basketball team, he was behind enemy lines.

Two years later, he’s sporting the Beavers’ green and white as one of the team’s most promising transfers.

“I remember a lot of that game. Absolutely,” Bianco said. “It’s definitely interesting (landing in Bemidji). It’s weird. … They recruited me after last year, and I just felt like it was meant to be.”

Bianco spent four years with palm trees and beaches at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., a team that hosted BSU for a Thanksgiving invite in 2019. Fast forward to Tuesday, when Bianco helped fuel Bemidji State to an 82-67 nonconference win over Concordia-St. Paul in a feel-good season opener.

“He made an impression on us,” head coach Mike Boschee said of the 2019 meeting. “We liked how he played, and it was a good fit. He’s getting out of Florida for one year, experiencing Minnesota snow, and I think he’s excited about it.”

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The bench celebrates after the Beavers scored in the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

After transferring from Eckerd to Valdosta State for 2020-21, Bianco found his way to Bemidji for his final collegiate season. And just when the Beavers needed their newcomer, Bianco was ready to answer the call.

With momentum swinging and a 14-point lead down to as few as four, Bianco brought the BSU Gymnasium to a deafening roar. He lobbed a ball to a soaring Mohamed Kone in transition, a perfect feed that Kone slammed home.

“That play was a momentum-changer,” Bianco said. “They were on their run right there, but most important is for us to stay calm and to capitalize when it’s our turn to have a run. That’s exactly what we did. It ended up being an electric play.”

The textbook alley-oop was a dunk worth well more than two points, as it stole back the momentum that guided Bemidji State (1-0) to the finish line.

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Bemidji State senior Mohamed Kone (3) scores in the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“That play exemplified what I’m looking for with this group: an attacking, aggressive style that wants to get in the paint, wants to attack the rim,” Boschee said. “(We want) to make the rims black and blue this year because we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of dirty work in the paint.”

In the first half, the Beavers’ growing lead suddenly maxed out at 13 with nine minutes left. Finally, in the final moments of the frame, BSU managed a 14-point advantage of 43-29 going into halftime.

The Golden Bears (1-2) made a run in the second half, closing within 47-43 with 15 minutes to play. But the Kone dunk restored a double-digit advantage at 53-43 two minutes later, and the difference never fell back under nine.

“My job’s the easy part,” Bianco said. “I’ve just got to throw it up, and (Kone) has to go and get it. To see him throw it down, see the guys on the bench go crazy, it was something special.”

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Bemidji State senior Gare Ewefada (1) dunks in the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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Yet Bianco isn’t the only newcomer who impressed on Tuesday. Minnesota Duluth transfer John Sutherland put up a game-high 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, while Dakota State transplant Gare Ewefada posted 11 points off the bench.

“The new guys are talented. They’ll help us,” Boschee said. “To have other guys being able to step up and complete our team, so we’re not one-dimensional, is exciting to see.”

Bianco finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Kone also hit double figures with 17 points of his own.

Bemidji State will stay home and next host Minnesota Morris in an exhibition, starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at the BSU Gymnasium.

Bemidji State 82, Concordia-St. Paul 67

CSP 29 38 -- 67

BSU 43 39 -- 82

CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL (1-2) -- Skeete 14, Ormiston 11, Hoffman 8, Sluice 8, Johns 7, Stensgard 7, Madson 5, Patterson 5, Scharlau 2. Totals: 27-66 FGs, 7-30 3-pt. FGs, 6-9 FTs.

BEMIDJI STATE (1-0) -- Sutherland 18, Bianco 17, Kone 17, Ewefada 11, Thompson 8, Landwehr 6, Behrendt 3, Olson 2. Totals: 34-63 FGs, 2-12 3-pt. FGs, 12-16 FTs.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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