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MEN’S BASKETBALL: John Sutherland, Beavers trying to mix new and old to find chemistry

A number of Bemidji State men’s basketball players have been around the block. But just as many are new to it. So the challenge for BSU this year is blending the new with the old.

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Bemidji State sophomore John Sutherland (23) blocks a shot in the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- A number of Bemidji State men’s basketball players have been around the block. But just as many are new to it.

So the challenge for BSU this year is blending the new with the old.

“We have to keep focusing on ourselves and getting used to playing with each other,” sophomore John Sutherland said. “We had a lot of transfers coming in obviously, and then also guys who have been here for a while. We just have to mesh together.”

Sutherland, a transfer from Minnesota Duluth, has brought his talents to Bemidji and made an immediate splash in the starting lineup. But he’s working alongside more experienced Beavers to find his fit in the program.

“We’re definitely trying to lean on Momo (Kone) and Derek (Thompson), people who have been here for a while,” Sutherland said. “The new guys have to try to find their way to fit in and do whatever we can to get some more wins.”

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The Beavers celebrate around sophomore John Sutherland, who dunks a ball at the end of pregame warmups against Minnesota Duluth on Dec. 2, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

That’s one department Bemidji State hopes to improve. Sitting at 4-5 overall and just 1-4 in conference play, BSU is trying to make simple fixes for significant gains.

“The biggest thing for us is the turnovers and then just simply making shots,” head coach Mike Boschee said. “Hopefully we can get (everyone) playing together really well and change some of the outcomes we’ve been receiving lately.”

Sutherland is averaging 11.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, but he isn’t the only newcomer who’s contributing. Senior transfer Travis Bianco has a team-high 13.6 ppg and 6.1 rpgs, while Gare Ewefada has provided a big boost with 7.4 ppg off the bench.

Those are three new pieces to the puzzle that Bemidji State is trying to assemble.

“Any time you put together a team on the court, there has to be a certain amount of cohesion,” Boschee said. “Obviously Derek’s been through a lot of games. Momo had a really good year last year, and having him back is really nice. Tyler (Behrendt), the same way.

“And when you add some new guys, you’re trying to help in as many areas as you possibly can. John is talented in a lot of ways, Travis is talented in a lot of ways, Gare has given us a big lift.”

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BSU wraps up the December schedule with its annual North Dakota road trip. First is a 5:30 p.m. tipoff against U-Mary on Friday, Dec. 17, in Bismarck, N.D., and then the Beaver Bash against Minot State follows at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, in Minot, N.D.

Sutherland will likely be back in the starting lineup for the Beavers, one thing the coaches envisioned when he was growing up in Grand Rapids.

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Bemidji High School's Jacob Beberg (2) battles with Grand Rapids' John Sutherland (23) for a rebound in a 2019 game at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“They recruited me pretty heavily (out of high school), and it felt like a great fit,” Sutherland said. “ … My family can make almost every home game, and then after games, I can always go home on Saturday nights and come back Sunday. It’s been super nice.”

And for Boschee, it’s a plus to land a recruit from Bemidji State’s backyard.

“When you find (a Northern Minnesota player), you want to be able to get him onto your roster to have that bit of a local feel,” Boschee said. “(Sutherland) is a big guy that I think everyone in the league would want to have. He’s a joy to coach, and a lot of his best years are ahead of him.”

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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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