Despite a season-high 28 turnovers and shooting just 56-percent from the stripe, Sioux Falls found its bearings tonight when it mattered most. Trailing Upper Iowa for most of the night, the Cougars closed with a 13-7 run to pull out the thrilling 70-68 victory at the Dorman Gymnasium in Fayette, Iowa.
The win moves USF to 6-4 (3-3, NSIC) while the Peacocks dropped to 3-10 overall and remain wanting for their first NSIC victory with a league record of 0-6. Upper Iowa has now lost nine straight.
“Lots of credit goes to Upper Iowa, they never let us get into an offensive rhythm” said fifth-year head coach Travis Traphagen in the post-game interview.
“There are some things that we will continue to work on—28 turnovers is embarrassing,” he added. “But, we got the win and every road win in the NSIC is huge.”
“I’m going into the locker room with a big smile on my face. We made some big plays down the stretch and I’m very proud of my team.”
Laura Johnson’s scoring ability and a series of late defensive stops helped the Cougars escape with the conference victory. In her 69th consecutive start, the junior guard once again provided an offensive spark, lighting up the scoreboard for a game-high 24 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including 5-for-9 from beyond the arc. None proved more important than the final two, when she converted a pair of free throws to give USF its first lead of the game at 68-67 with three minutes left in the contest. Johnson also hauled in a game-best 15 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. She played all but one minute on Friday night.
“I have two sets on my play card,” Traphagen said. “Team sets and Laura sets. She really came through for us tonight and hit some huge free throws.”
It had been nearly three weeks since USF last played, when it bombed its way to a victory over Minnesota State, Mankato. The Cougars showed signs of the 20-day layoff tonight, as they had three turnovers in the books before attempting a shot. Upper Iowa went 2-for-3 early on to go up 5-0 and give it a lead it spent most of the night protecting.
USF was running uphill all night after Upper Iowa’s early barrage, and was down 14-9 at the 10-minute mark. The Cougars started to heat up from long range in the final minutes of the first half. A trey by Johnson cut the Cougars’ deficit to 30-26 with 1:24 on the clock. The Peacocks tried to counter on their next possession but missed the three-pointer and Johnson pulled down the board, which she pushed up court to Bouman. Bouman hit the triple and the Cougars went into the locker room trailing 30-29.
The Peacocks opened the second half with an 11-5 run to push their lead to seven points, 41-34, at the 15:43 mark. Johnson netted six straight points in the next two minutes to trim the margin to 41-40. Upper Iowa made it a seven-point game just as quickly, with a two-minute, six-point skein (four off of USF turnovers) to go up 49-42 with less than 12 minutes remaining. The teams traded points and the Peacocks held the seven-point lead for close to six minutes, when a Rushton trey cut the home team’s lead to four, at 61-57.
Upper Iowa’s lead was shaved to one point, 67-66, with less than four minutes left after a Rushton jumper. Johnson drew a foul on a defensive rebound and hit both freebies to make it 68-67 in favor of USF.
From there, it was senior center Hoff that sealed the road victory for the Cougars. With 1:19 to go, the Brandon Valley product blocked a lay-up by Peacock leading scorer Whitney Kieffer and scored her only points of the game with 33 seconds remaining to give USF the 70-67 advantage. Upper Iowa then went 1-2 from the free throw line to create the final margin.
“Kelli’s a senior and the kid that I can trust on the defensive end in a close game,” Traphagen said. “She did a fantastic job in the second half.”
Hoff finished with two points, five rebounds and the crucial block.
Bouman served as the Cougars’ sniper off the bench, shooting 4-for-4 on the night and nailing three three-pointers to finish with 12 points. Rushton chipped in 10 points while Teagan Molden had eight points.
Senior guard Holli Aggen, who has missed the last eight games due to orthoscopic knee surgery, had two points and four assists in 32 minutes of action. Freshman guard Maggie Malloy played a season-high 22 minutes.
The Peacocks converted the Cougars’ 28 turnovers into 29 points. Thanks in large part to Bouman and Molden, USF’s bench outscored Upper Iowa’s 29-18. The Cougars edged the Peacocks in points in the paint, 32-30.
USF made 26-of-57 shots for 46 percent and were 9-for-23 (39 percent) from beyond the arc. Upper Iowa shot 40 and 37 percent, respectively. The Cougars owned a 40-32 edge on the glass.
Sioux Falls travels to Winona State on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.