It may have been ugly at moments. It may have caused some fans to turn prematurely grey. In spite of it all, Sioux Falls now owns a signature win.
Before a solid crowd at the Stewart Center, the Cougars did what they hadn’t done since becoming a full-fledged member of the NCAA Division II prior to the start of the 2012-13 season: Defeat a nationally ranked team.
By playing great defense down the stretch, putting three players in double-figures and receiving another big performance from Jordan Stotts, USF upset No. 16 Winona State 76-69 on Saturday evening, its first win over a ranked opponent since joining the NCAA Division II and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Independent of that, these current Cougars made a little additional history of their own, defeating Winona State for the first time in program history.
The Warriors routed USF, 90-65, on their home court earlier in the season.
This certainly wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory. It started out with the Cougars playing one of their best halves of basketball this season and building a 41-33 halftime lead with a pair of Mack Johnson free throws.
But the Warriors are a terrific offensive team and are led by Taylor Cameron and Kellen Taylor, who could be the best guard combination in the NSIC. Cameron methodically worked his way to a game-high 24 points. In the same fashion, his team got back into it, engineering a 10-2 run late in the second half to take a 62-59 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
The Cougars tied it with a Derek Brown three-pointer and a Robert Goffney dribble-drive gave USF the 66-64 advantage. Cameron missed the front end of a double-bonus on the ensuing trip down court to make it a 66-65 ballgame. Brown then found Stotts, who provided the dagger by draining the biggest three-pointer of his young career in front of the Cougar bench. USF went 7-for-8 from the line in the final minute to provide the final scoring, and the big upset.
Charles Ward led USF with 17 points, four rebounds and three steals. Brown scored 16 points and Goffney finished with 12 points and dished a game-high five assists. Stotts and Johnson chipped in nine points each, while Bryan Kielpinski went 3-for-6 from the field for seven points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Winona State led 8-4 early before USF responded with back-to-back triples from Brown to tie the game at 10-all at the 13:15 mark. The score was tied six minutes later when a triple by Ward afforded USF a 25-22 lead with 6:23 to go before halftime. The Cougars never trailed the rest of the period and out-scored WSU 16-11 to take a 41-33 halftime lead.
The Cougars fired 50.0% from the field in the first half and 40% from downtown (6-for-15). Ward had 10 points in the frame, going a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the line.
They limited Winona State’s success under the basket, out-rebounding the Warriors 22-14 in the half and holding them to just five second chance points.
USF cooled off considerably in the second half (.308), but made just enough consistent defensive stops down the stretch to notch their first NSIC weekend sweep of the year. The Cougars had another solid night at the line, converting 19 of 24 attempts (79.2%). Brown, the best free throw shooter in the NSIC, went 2-for-2 tonight and is now hitting at a 97.2% clip.
The Cougars owned a 40-32 advantage in rebounds but committed 17 turnovers that WSU converted into 16 points. USF’s bench more than doubled the output of the Warrior reserves (30-14).
A nightmarish three-game NSIC losing streak has been offset by two league wins this weekend. The Cougars move to 8-8 on the season, 5-7 in NSIC play and will finish this weekend no worse than tied for 10th place. The Warriors slipped to 15-4 (10-2 NSIC)
Courtesy: Stephanie Pendrys, USF