MSU Moorhead put together a critical 15-0 run late in the second half to rally back and earn a 87-78 victory over Southwest Minnesota State in the first round of the NSIC/Sanford Health Tournament in Moorhead, Minn.
MSUM (19-10), the No. 4 seed in the NSIC North, trailed 59-53 with nine minutes and five seconds left in the game, but answered with 15 straight points to build a 68-59 lead with 5:23 left in the game. SMSU, the No. 5 seed in the NSIC South, finally stopped the scoreless streak with a Vinard Birch jumper with 4:10 remaining in the game.
SMSU pulled to within four points on two occasions in the final 3:18, but MSUM, which made 29 of 33 free throws in the game, including 27 of 29 in the second half, made enough plays down the stretch to seal the victory.
SMSU, which is ranked No. 10 in this week’s NCAA Central Region rankings, ends its season at 16-14 overall.
Alex Novak led the Dragons with 20 points and 17 rebounds, while Jordan Riewer added 21 points and seven rebounds. MSUM advances to the NSIC Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday at No. 1S Minnesota State.
Nick Smith paced the Mustangs with 18 points and 12 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double of the season. Birch added 15 points and five rebounds, while Jordan Miller chipped in with 13 points, six assists and four steals. Lavione West rounded out SMSU’s double figure scoring with 10 points.
MSUM shot 50 percent (26 of 52) from the field and held a 41-31 rebound advantage. SMSU closed the night shooting 43 percent (29 of 68) from the field, but was just 4 of 16 from 3-point range.
SMSU trailed 7-3 in the game’s opening four minutes, but a 10-0 run capped by a Zager 3-point play gave SMSU a 13-7 lead with 12:56 remaining.
The Mustangs continued to lead, including taking its largest lead of the half at 18-10 with 10:51 left in the half following a 3-point play by William Giddings.
MSUM rallied and put together a 13-2 run over the next four minutes to build a 23-20 advantage at the 6:32 mark.
The lead changed several times in the final six minutes before SMSU broke free for a 36-33 halftime advantage.
SMSU forced MSUM into 12 turnovers in the opening half, leading to 21 points for the Mustangs. MSUM, which finished the NSIC season ranking second in rebound margin, held a 22-13 rebound edge in the first half.
SMSU shot 44 percent in the first half with a pair of 3-pointers, while MSUM shot 52 percent with three 3-pointers.
SMSU maintained the lead for the first 11 minutes of the second half, including building a pair of six-point leads. Zager gave SMSU a 59-53 lead with 9:50 remaining, but after that it was all MSUM, as the Dragons reeled off 15 straight points to take a 68-59 advantage with 5:23 on the clock and never looked back.
Tonight was the final game for six Mustang senior players, including Tramel Barnes, Jordan Buddenhagen, Jordan Miller, Michael Appel, Lavione West and Tyler Peschong.
SMSU is now 14-12 all-time in the NSIC Tournament, including 8-5 in the first round, since its inception in 2000.