Southwest Minnesota State rallied from a double-digit second half deficit and then used a big 3-pointer late in overtime to earn a thrilling 84-78 overtime victory over Wayne State in the semifinals of the NSIC/Sanford Health Men’s Basketball Tournament held at the Sanford Pentagon.
SMSU (18-13) will now advance to Tuesday’s night championship game versus regular season champion Northern State (25-6) with tip-off slated for 7:30. NSU advanced to the title game with a come-from-behind, final-second 77-76 victory over Winona State.
Tuesday with be SMSU’s third straight championship game appearance and eighth in program history. Tuesday’s game will be a rematch of last season’s title game with NSU earning the victory. SMSU won tournament championships in both 2012 and 2017.
On Monday night, SMSU’s Ryan Bruggeman scored a game-high 34 points and set a school and NSIC Tournament single-game record with 17 free throws made. Bruggeman also grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds and dished out six assists. It was his third double-double of the season and eighth of his career.
Taylor Schafer also had a big night for SMSU as he scored 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting with five 3-pointers, while Michael Lee connected on four 3-pointers, including the go-ahead 3-pointer late in overtime, to finish with 12 points.
SMSU finished the game shooting 41 percent (26 of 63) from the field, while making 11 of 22 from 3-point range. SMSU held a 37-32 rebound advantage, including pulling down nine offensive rebounds. It was just the second time SMSU has outrebounded an opponent since Dec. 15.
Wayne State (21-10), which earned a share of the NSIC South Division championship and the tournament’s No. 3 seed from division, shot 46 percent (25 of 55) from the field with seven 3-pointers. Kendall Jacks led the Wildcats with 16 points, while Jordan Janssen added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Janssen hit a pair of free throws with 6:38 remaining in regulation to give WSC a 62-52 advantage. Bruggeman started SMSU’s comeback attempt with layup and Schafer would later hit a jumper to pull SMSU to within 65-60 at the 3:09 mark. Following a defensive stop, Byers would hit two free throws to make the score 65-62 and after another big stop by the Mustang defense, Byers secured an offensive rebound and scored on SMSU’s ensuing possession to cut the deficit to 65-64 with 1:41 remaining.
WSC hit two free throws to stop the SMSU spurt, but Bruggeman answered with two more free throws at the 1:16 mark to make the score 67-66. WSC missed a jumper on its next possession and Lee was able to grab the rebound. Bruggeman was then fouled with 40 seconds remaining and calmly made both free throws to give SMSU the lead at 68-67.
WSC’s Nick Ferrarini missed a 3-pointer on the next Wildcat possession and Byers once again pulled down the rebound and passed to Bruggeman, who was fouled with 15 seconds remaining. Bruggeman missed the first throw, but made the second to push the advantage to 69-67. WSC wouldn’t go away and Janssen scored with one second left to send the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, Jacks hit a pair of free throws to give WSC the lead, but Lee drilled a corner 3-pointer to give SMSU a 72-71 lead. Moments later Byers scored to give SMSU a 74-71 lead, but WSC hit two free throws to cut the margin to 74-73.
Grant Kramer would hit one of two free throws on the ensuing SMSU possession to build a two-point lead, but Nate Mohr tied the game with a jumper with three minutes left to make the score 75-75.
Schafer stepped up and hit a huge 3-pointer to put SMSU back in front, but Mohr answered with his own 3-pointer to tie the score once again at 78 with two minutes remaining.
Following a missed Bruggeman jumper, WSC was called for an offensive foul, to set up the go-ahead 3-pointer by Lee with 1:04 left to put SMSU in the lead at 81-78.
WSC failed to score in the final minute and SMSU was able to seal the win behind a free throw by Byers and two more from Bruggeman in the game’s final 18 seconds.
The Wildcats opened the game red-hot from the field, connecting on 10 of their first 15 shots to build a 25-16 advantage with 7:30 left in the half. Schafer hit a jumper to give SMSU a 14-12 lead with 11:30 on the clock, but WSC rallied behind a 13-2 run to take its largest lead of the night at nine points.
WSC would later hold another nine-point advantage at 29-20 lead with six minutes remaining, but SMSU rallied behind a pair of free throws from Bruggeman and back-to-back 3-pointers by Schafer to cut the deficit to 29-28 at the 4:11 mark. Following a field goal by WSC, Bruggeman drilled a jumper and a 3-pointer to put SMSU back in front at 33-31 with 2:58 remaining.
The teams would exchange the lead a handful of times in the closing minutes of the half, but Lee connected on a long-range 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to put SMSU back in front at 39-37 heading into the break.
Bruggeman scored 15 points in the opening half with Schafer adding 11 points. SMSU shot 45 percent in the first half, while WSC shot an outstanding 57 percent.
WSC scored the first five points of the second half to quickly regain the lead and would hold a 50-48 lead with 14:10 remaining after Byers scored on a jumper. SMSU then went ice-cold from the field, going scoreless for more than five minutes, as WSC pushed its lead to 58-48 midway through the half.
SMSU made just one field goal for more than seven minutes as WSC maintained its lead at 62-52 with 6:30 remaining in the game before the Mustangs made their comeback push.
SMSU and Northern State will be meeting for the second time this season with NSU earning a 91-81 victory in Aberdeen, S.D., on Feb. 9.