The Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team split a pair of games against top-tier Mid-America Intercollegiate Conference competition over the weekend at the Northwest Missouri State Classic in Maryville, Mo.
On Saturday, a shot by Matt Zager with 5.4 seconds remaining lifted the Mustangs to a 64-62 victory over previously-unbeaten Central Missouri. Then Sunday, the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats proved why they're the 24th-ranked team in Division II with a wire-to-wire 74-62 win over SMSU to close the tournament.
The Mustangs finish their non-conference portion of the schedule at 3-4 entering Saturday's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener against the University of Sioux Falls in Marshall.
SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said the Mustangs struggled to execute offensively in both games, especially in the second game when they were without starting point guard Vinard Birch, who had a sprained ankle. Through the first seven games, Bigler said his team's offense has some catching up to do with its defense as the NSIC season approaches.
"I feel like our effort has been there for most of the games," Bigler said. "I think our defensive intensity has been good and has actually kept us in a lot of games, but I think our offense has a ways to go. I think a lot of it goes back to making sure everyone is on the same page, making sure we're playing unselfish and just making better decisions. We're an experienced group and we have to play like it. We have to value the basketball."
Saturday's contest against Central Missouri was a back-and-forth battle between the Mustangs and Mules. The game saw 13 lead changes and nine ties, with neither team leading by more than seven points in the game.
William Giddings 3-3 0-0 6, Vinard Birch 1-4 0-0 2, Jordan Miller 5-11 5-6 18, Matt Zager 6-11 0-0 14, Nick Smith 4-10 3-4 11, Tramel Barnes 0-0 2-2 2, Jordan Buddenhagen 1-2 0-0 3, Shaun Condon 0-2 0-0 0, Lavione West 3-9 2-3 8. Totals 23-51 12-15 64. 3-pointers 6-16 (Miller 3-8, Zager 2-4, Buddenhagen 1-2) Rebounds 36 (Miller 10, Smith 8, Zager 5) Assists 11 (Miller 5) Steals 7 (Zager 2, Giddings 2) Blocks 2 (Smith 2) Turnovers 17 Total Fouls 15.
Central Missouri (62)
Matt Webb 3-5 4-4 10, Lance Beckwith 0-3 1-2 1, Dominique Long 4-9 5-5 14, Widgett Washington 2-11 0-0 4, Charles Hammork 8-13 0-0 16, Dominique Newton 2-6 0-0 6, Reggie Stallings 2-8 0-0 5, Alex Dean 3-4 0-1 6. Totals 24-59 10-12 62. 3-pointers 4-18 (Newton 2-4, Stallings 1-4, Long 1-3) Rebounds 31 (Webb 7, Hammork 6, Long 5) Assists 5 Steals 8 (Hammork 3) Blocks 3 (Zach Bush 3) Turnovers 17 Totat Fouls 13.
Halftime Score: Central Missouri 36, SMSU 34.
Nick Smith 6-10 2-3 14, Jordan Miller 4-14 2-3 11, William Giddings 3-7 0-2 6, Matt Zager 3-3 0-0 6, Tramel Barnes 2-7 0-1 4, Lavione West 5-7 3-4 13, Jordan Buddenhagen 2-4 0-0 6, Shaun Condon 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 26-57 7-13 62. 3-pointers 3-13 (Buddenhagen 2-4, Miller 1-5) Rebounds 28 (Smith 7, Barnes 6, Miller 5) Assists 8 (Barnes 3) Steals 4 Blocks 4 (Smith 4) Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 17.
NW Missouri State (74)
Dillon Starzl 6-12 4-6 16, Alex Sullivan 5-10 0-0 14, Kyle Schlake 3-5 0-0 6, Matt Wallace 0-5 5-6 5, Bryston Williams 1-1 0-0 3, DeAngelo Hailey 7-15 4-4 20, Grant Cozad 2-4 2-2 6, Conner Crooker 1-4 0-0 3, Tyler Funk 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-57 16-20 74. 3-pointers 8-21 (Sullivan 4-6, Hailey 2-7, Williams 1-1, Crooker 1-4) Rebounds 39 (Cozad 7, Hailey 6, Starzl 6) Assists 13 (Wallace 10) Steals 6 Blocks 4 (Schlake 2) Turnovers 14 Total Fouls 15.
Halftime Score: NW Missouri State 38, SMSU 29.
The Mules came out hot, shooting 59.3 percent in the first half compared to SMSU's 43.3 percent from the field, but the Mustangs managed to stay close and went into the locker room down just two points at 36-34.
Central Missouri grabbed a seven-point lead early in the second half until SMSU rallied to take a 62-56 lead with 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game. UCM scored six straight points to tie the game with 1:32 remaining, and neither team managed to score again until Zager's game-winning shot with 5.4 seconds left. Zager was able to release on an inbounds play and went to the basket after catching a long pass. The defender who was guarding SMSU center Nick Smith came to help, but Zager got off a floater that he was able to put in.
After their scorching start in the first half, the Mules were held to just 25 percent shooting (8 of 32) in the second half.
Zager finished the game with 14 points, while Jordan Miller led the Mustangs with a season-high 18 points on 5 of 11 shooting. He also had 10 points and five boards in a strong all-around effort.
Smith added 11 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks in the victory.
Central Missouri was led by Charles Hammork, who was 8-for-13 shooting with 16 points and three steals.
Playing tournament host Northwest Missouri State on Sunday, the Mustangs fell behind 11-4 within the first 5:20 of the game. A layup by SMSU's William Giddings cut the lead down to five, but the Bearcats built the lead up to double digits and eventually went into halftime up 38-29.
"We dug ourselves a hole early in the game by not executing well on the offensive end and not giving ourselves a chance to set up our defense," Bigler said. "I think that was kind of the theme of the weekend, unfortunately. The start of both games, I thought we could have been a lot better."
The Bearcats led by as many as 16 in the second half until SMSU went on a 14-4 run capped by a 3-pointer by Jordan Buddenhagen to pull within 65-60 with 2:59 left in the game. The Bearcats missed a shot on their next possession, but reserve Tyler Funk hauled in an offensive rebound and DeAngelo Hailey drained a 3-pointer to build the lead back up to eight with 1:52 left in the game. SMSU didn't have much left after that, and Northwest Missouri State finished off the Mustangs with a 9-2 run to pick up its fifth straight win to start the season.
Smith had another solid game for SMSU, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and four blocks. Lavione West came off the bench to chip in 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting, while Jordan Miller had 11 points.
Hailey scored a game-high 20 points off the bench for the Bearcats and also hauled in six boards. Starters Dillon Starzl and Alex Sullivan scored 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The Bearcats' Matt Wallace notched 10 assists in the game, which was two more than SMSU had as a team.