Sixth-year head men’s basketball coach Chris Johnson made sure his team knew just how important Friday night’s game against the University of Minnesota Moorhead was in regards to their chances in the top-to-bottom competitive Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season.
The Cougars took his advice to heart as they pounced on the Dragons with a late first half burst and pulled away late for a decisive 92-70 victory tonight at the Stewart Center.
The win is the first in 27 days for USF (6-5, 3-4) and snaps a four-game NSIC losing streak. MSU-Moorhead (9-2, 5-2 NSIC) dropped its second straight contest and has lost back-to-back games for the first time in 11 months.
The victory also stands as no. 1,000 for the USF men’s program (1,000-1,034).
One game after no USF player finished in double-digits for the first time in a decade, junior Charles Ward scored a game-high 21 points (6-for-12 FG, 8-for-9 FT)) to pace a quintet of Cougars in double-digits, while a total of nine players got a piece of the scoring action. Mahlon Jones had 17 points, while Derek Brown (15), Mack Johnson (12) and Jordan Stotts (11) helped USF improve to 6-1 when shooting 45% or better from the floor.
The Cougars shot 29-for-57 (50.9%) from the field and also inflicted significant damage from the stripe, where they shot a stellar 28-for-31 (90.3%). The Dragons converted just 17 of 27 attempts (63%).
The game was scoreless for the first two minutes before Urbane Bingham’s close-range jumper put the Dragons up 2-0 at the 18:01 mark. MSU Moorhead led 7-2 before the Cougars responded with a Mack Johnson trey and Jones sank the first of several acrobatic buckets to tie it at 7-7. The teams traded several buckets over the next 12 minutes, but Brown connected on a three and catch-and-shoot on consecutive possessions to give USF a 37-32 advantage. The Cougars closed the half on a 13-3 tear that was capped by Brown’s long two as time expired to lead 45-35 at intermission.
The Dragons went on a 9-2 run out of the break to slice USF’s lead to 47-45 before Mack Johnson sandwiched two jumpers around a Brown triple to make it 54-45 and force a Moorhead timeout. Cougar fans were treated to a scalding finish, as Cutler Finneman’s layup made it 56-46 with less than 14 to play and the Dragons never got closer than ten after that. A dribble-drive by Jones gave USF their largest lead of the game at 90-62 and they cruised to the 22-point win.
USF outrebounded the Dragons overall 39-35, while Moorhead owned a sizeable 13-7 advantage on the offensive glass. Moorhead finished 23-for-59 from the floor and was led in scoring by Prescott Williams (12) and Jordan Riewer (11). Both benches accounted for 22 points and the Cougars were charged with a season-low six turnovers.
USF will host intrastate rival Northern State (10-3, 5-2) tomorrow at 6 p.m.
Courtesty: Stephanie Pendrys, University of Sioux Falls Sports Information