MARSHALL - A hangover from the previous weekend's ugly offensive performance against Division I Nebraska-Omaha carried into the start of Southwest Minnesota State's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference women's basketball opener against Sioux Falls on Saturday, putting the Mustangs in a hole they couldn't quite climb out of in a 77-66 loss inside the R/A Facility.
After shooting 23.1 percent in a 63-37 loss to UNO on Nov. 25, the Mustangs came out and shot 25.8 percent in the first half against the Cougars on Saturday and fell behind 39-27. SMSU forward Alison Nagel was about the only bright spot in the loss to UNO, scoring 19 points off the bench. Getting her first start on Saturday, the 6-3 junior college transfer poured in 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting in the opening half. The rest of the team was just 3 of 21.
The Mustangs (0-1 NSIC, 1-5 overall) woke up offensively in the second half, where they shot 48.5 percent, and pulled to as close as two points, but were never quite able to get over the hump.
Southwest Minnesota State guard Mikayla Saathoff, left, dribbles past Sioux Falls’ Chrissy Strassburg during the first half of Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at the R/A Facility at SMSU. Saathoff had six points and five assists for the Mustangs in the losing effort.
SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said her squad is still getting used to running its motion offense, which has led to some long stretches of stagnant play.
"When we attack the hoop and are patient on offense, good things happen," Kruger said. "We just have a tendency at times to take quick shots and not let our motion run its course to get our good looks, and that's when we struggle. Our biggest thing is we have to make sure we're taking good shots and we're being patient offensively.
"I thought we had some really bright spots tonight offensively, and when we're cutting to the rim and doing those things, we're really good. We can't get tentative offensively."
Sioux Falls (77)
Alyssa Rushton 3-8 4-6 11, Chrissy Strassburg 1-5 1-1 3, Teagan Molden 0-5 0-0 0, Laura Johnson 2-15 10-12 15, Mikenna Greathouse 4-7 0-0 8, Jaicee ulmer 6-10 4-5 18, Bailey Bouman 1-3 0-0 3, Lauren McKinnis 7-10 2-2 17, Kelli Hoff 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-65 21-26 77. 3-pointers 6-20 (Ulmer 2-5, Rushton 1-2, Johnson 1-6, Bouman 1-2, McKinnis 1-3) Rebounds 41 (Johnson 11, Greathouse 6, Bouman 5) Assists 12 (Johnson 4, Rushton 3) Steals 14 (Rushton 4, Johnson 3, McKinnis 3) Blocks 2 Turnovers 11 Total Fouls 13.
Mikayla Saathoff 2-5 2-3 6, Bree Holleman 2-9 0-0 5, Rebekah Rolling 6-9 1-2 15, Alison Nagel 7-19 2-2 17, Jessie Watts 0-1 2-2 2, Ellen Degler 3-3 1-1 7, Hannah Beeler 3-11 2-2 9, Hope Bonlander 1-5 1-2 3, Annessa Rosch 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 24-64 13-16 66. 3-pointers 5-17 (Rolling 2-4, Holleman 1-6, Nagel 1-4, Beeler 1-2) Rebounds 40 (Nagel 9, Beeler 6, Rolling 5) Assists 18 (Nagel 5, Saathoff 5) Steals 6 (Degler 2, Rolling 2) Blocks 7 (Nagel 4, Beeler 3) Turnovers 16 Total Fouls 18.
Halftime Score: Sioux Falls 39, SMSU 27.
The Mustangs also had some issues defensively, especially against Sioux Falls guards Jaicee Ulmer and Lauren McKinnis. Both players came off the bench to score career-highs, with Ulmer scoring 18 points and McKinnis scoring 17 points.
SMSU got a spark from its other junior college transfer, guard Rebekah Rolling, in the second half, where she scored 14 of her 15 points. She had seven points in the first 6 minutes, 14 seconds of the second half, and after a layup by SMSU guard Bree Holleman, the Cougars' lead was down to 44-42 with 12:55 left in the game.
But whenever SMSU made a run in the second half, Ulmer or McKinnis had an answer. McKinnis was the fastest player on the court and used her speed to become a one-woman fastbreak, and she also scored on perimeter shots and a couple of baseline step-back jumpers.
McKinnis, who hails from Chicago, had scored just eight points in her previous four games for the Cougars (1-0, 4-1), and Kruger said her scoring prowess caught SMSU off guard.
"(McKinnis) doesn't score the ball, and of course against us she would hit a few shots and get herself going," Kruger said. "That's kind of been our luck this year is those kids who aren't really big scorers find a way to get it going against us. I think our biggest thing is, offensively, we played well, defensively, we lacked some effort and mentality here and there.
"But we didn't come away with this victory because we didn't rebound very well. They had 16 second-chance points, and that's the difference right there. We're not a big squad, we're low in post numbers right now, so we have to commit to doing those little things like putting a body on someone and rebounding the ball."
The Mustangs got a little deeper at the post position on Saturday with the return of Ellen Degler, who is also on the SMSU volleyball team and hadn't practiced with the basketball squad all season.
Degler got back to Marshall at midnight Friday after the Mustang volleyball team lost in the NCAA Central Region semifinals to end its season, and she produced a big spark in the second half against USF, scoring seven points in seven minutes of action to help the Mustangs cut a double-digit lead down to five with less than a minute left before the Cougars salted away the game at the free-throw line.
"Ellen showed up this morning and this is the first time we've seen her since last year, but Ellen's one of those kids that will do those little things," Kruger said. "She's controlled, she makes good plays for her teammates, she sees the court well and she rebounds. She has to do those things because she's undersized.
"I was joking before the game, I'm like, 'Please don't let me put her in.' But with Val (Sahr) going down with an injury early in the game, we really didn't have a choice. That's what (Degler) does and that's why she's going to be a big addition to our team."
After her hot first half, Nagel finished the game with 17 points. She also had nine rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots.
The Mustangs are on the road next weekend, playing conference games at Augustana (1-0, 5-0) Friday and Wayne State (0-1, 3-1) Saturday.