A breakout performance by junior forward Ellen Degler helped the Southwest Minnesota State women's basketball team break out of a shooting slump and nearly pull off a huge upset over 15th-ranked Wayne State College.
Degler poured in a career-high 21 points off the bench, and SMSU held a 61-59 lead on WSC with 3 minutes, 08 seconds remaining in the game. But the Wildcats shut out the Mustangs the rest of the way and clawed their way to a 66-61 victory, extending their home win streak at Rice Auditorium to 51 games.
"After Saturday night's game, I was very, very pleased with the way our team played," SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said. "We kind of talked about it in the locker room afterward, so I know the team was too. I'm not satisfied and I know they're not satisfied and that's the good thing. We've kind of set the standard for how we can play for 40 minutes so that needs to be our expectation for every game from here on out. But we competed and we competed for 40 minutes and gave ourselves a chance to win in a tough environment against a ranked team.
The Mustangs (1-7 overall, 0-3 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) had shot just 29 percent from the field the previous night in a blowout loss to No. 7 Augustana. They came out hot Saturday against the Wildcats (5-1, 2-1), shooting a scorching 60.7 percent in the first half while holding WSC to 36.4 percent shooting on their way to a 38-33 lead going into the locker room.
"We took quality shots all night long, I think that is why our percentage went up," Kruger said. "We did a great job of distributing the basketball, had a high number of assists, and just were getting shots close to the basket. We weren't settling, we weren't trying to play one-on-one. We played really good team basketball and that helps the ball go in."
The two teams played tight throughout the second half, with neither team pulling ahead by more than five points. SMSU's cold stretch over the final three minutes was the difference, as the team missed five shots from the field, missed a free throw and turned the ball over once in its final several possessions.
Hannah Beeler 1-3 0-0 2, Alison Nagel 6-16 0-0 13, Mikayla Saathoff 0-2 0-0 0, Bree Holleman 2-8 1-2 6, Rebekah Rolling 4-7 0-0 9, Jessie Watts 3-5 0-2 6, Ellen Degler 9-12 3-5 21, Hope Bonlander 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 26-54 6-11 61. 3-pointers 3-11 (Nagel 1-3, Rolling 1-4, Holleman 1-4) Rebounds 35 (Rolling 6, Bonlander 6, Nagel 5) Assists 16 (Saathoff 5, Degler 4, Bonlander 4) Steals 9 (Saathoff 3, Watts 2, Degler 2) Blocks 5 (Degler 2) Turnovers 19 Total Fouls 18.
Ellen Hansen 2-4 9-10 13, Jordan Spencer 7-17 2-2 16, Whitney Epp 1-5 0-0 2, Ashton Yosi 7-19 8-9 25, Addy Roller 2-7 4-4 9, Shantel Lehmann 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 19-55 24-27 66. 3-pointers 4-18 (Tosi 3-12, Roller 1-4) Rebounds 34 (Spencer 13, Epp 6) Assists 12 (Roller 5) Steals 10 (Yossi 3, Spencer 3) Blocks 5 (Epp 3, Yossi 2) Turnovers 11 Total Fouls 13.
Halftime Score: SMSU 38, WSC 33.
Wayne State's starters scored all but one of the team's 66 points. Guard Ashton Yossi scored a career-high 25 points, while forwards Jordan Spencer and Ellen Hannsne scored 16 and 13 points, respectively.
The Wildcats finished the game shooting 34.5 percent from the field, while SMSU was at 48.1 percent. WSC did much of its scoring from the foul line, where the Wildcats connected on 24 of 27 attempts (88.9 percent). Hansen was 9 of 10, and Yosi was 8 of 9. SMSU was 6 of 11 from the foul line as a team.
Mustang forward Alison Nagel joined Degler in double figures with 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. She also had five rebounds. Guard Rebekah Rolling added nine points.
Degler missed the first three games of the season while playing with the SMSU volleyball team during its run to the semifinals of the Division II Central Region Tournament. She went 9-for-12 from the field on Saturday in her third game back with the basketball team. She also had four assists and a pair of steals.
"She was huge for us (Saturday) night," Kruger said of Degler. "She did more than just score the basketball. She had four assists as well and had to defend one of (Wayne State's) better players. She just sees the court so well, she makes everyone around her better. It's been a definite advantage to have her."
SMSU is back home next weekend, facing Minnesota State-Mankato at 6 p.m. Friday and Concordia St. Paul at 5 p.m. Saturday.
"We have a great opportunity before us to end on the right note before Christmas," Kruger said of the upcoming contests. "The way we played on Saturday night, I expect us to compete in both games. They're two tough teams coming in and hopefully we can handle business."