Matt Zager finished with 20 points and Vinard Birch tallied 17 as the two seniors rallied Southwest Minnesota State from 16 points down in the second half to stun Augustana College on its home court 77-75. SMSU trailed by 16 with 12:31 to go.
SMSU starting chipping away at the lead with 7:10 to go as Zager connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead down to six. The lead would hover from the four to seven point range for the next couple of minutes until two Birch layups clip the lead to just one with 3:16 to play. Two made free throws by Casey Schilling bumped the lead back to three, but a Shaun Condon layup 45 seconds later brought the score to 73-72. It was then that Birch gave SMSU its first lead since the 4:19 mark in the first half with a made layup with 1:07 remaining.
Daniel Jansen’s layup with 32 seconds remaining put the Vikings back up by one, but Nick Smith came through in the clutch again with a go-ahead jumper 12 seconds later to put the Mustangs up 76-75. With nine seconds left, Augustana went to Jansen again but this time he missed the potential go-ahead layup and William Giddings came down with the rebound to seal the comeback.
SMSU closed the final 7:33 on a 22-8 run.
The win is just SMSU’s third all-time on the road against Augustana and the first since Dec. 11, 2004. Birch led SMSU to victory in SMSU’s last meeting with Augustana earlier this season as the senior point guard hit a pull-up jumper to win the game with 10.8 seconds left.
SMSU finished the game 29 of 53 (54.7%), including 5 of 16 from behind the arc. SMSU hit 14 of its 19 free throws, while Augustana converted 22 of 30. SMSU held a rebounding advantage of 33-27.
Zager led SMSU with 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc. Birch chipped in 17 points and seven assists, while Smith and Condon each had 14 each. Smith grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Augustana closed the first half on a 13-3 run to build separation and continued the hot streak in the first four minutes of the second half to pump the lead to 15.
SMSU will return to the R/A Facility next weekend to play host to two NSIC north division foes – Bemidji State and Minnesota Crookston.
Courtesy: Adam Henning ('11), Assistant Athletic Communications Director, Southwest Minnesota State University