Sticking with top seed St. Cloud State until midway through the second half, the Southwest Minnesota State women's basketball team ran out of steam down the stretch as the Dragons pulled away for a 72-47 victory in a first-round game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference/Sanford Health Tournament played in St. Cloud.
Down two at the half, SMSU kept within striking distance of the Huskies and pulled to within three at 46-43 after a jumper by junior forward Alison Nagel with eight minutes, 41 seconds remaining. But SCSU outscored the Mustangs 26-4 the rest of the way to advance into the second round.
The Huskies (19-8 overall) will play Winona State, the No. 4 seed in the NSIC South, Saturday in St. Cloud. SMSU ends its year with a 4-25 record.
The Mustangs shot 52.4 percent in the first half and held a one-point lead over the Huskies before SCSU's Sam Price hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put her team up 30-28 going into the locker room. She finished with a game-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers.
In the second half, however, SMSU shot just 25 percent from the field as the Mustangs saw their season slip away.
"Until the last six minutes of the game I thought we played pretty well," SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said. "We were down three with eight minutes to go, but once that five-minute mark hit we looked gassed on both ends and started making a lot of mental errors."
Val Sahr 3-5 0-0 6, Mikayla Saathoff 3-7 0-0 6, Megan DeRuyter 1-2 0-0 2, Rebekah Rolling 5-12 0-0 11, Ellen Degler 2-5 7-11 11, Annessa Rosch 1-6 1-4 3, Alison Nagel 3-9 1-3 8. Totals 18-49 8-13 47. 3-pointers 3-15 (Nagel 1-3, Rosch 1-4, Rolling 1-6) Rebounds 27 (Nagel 11, Degler 6) Assists 7 (Saathoff 3) Steals 6 Blocks 1 Turnovers 18 Total Fouls 16.
Morgan Lof 2-5 0-0 4, Sam Price 6-14 3-3 19, Nicole Anderson 4-8 1-2 9, Carley Jeffrey 1-1 0-0 3, Amanda Wagner 6-8 3-3 15, Reyan Robinson 1-1 0-0 2, Jessica Benson 2-12 3-4 7, Rachael Moen 2-9 1-2 6, Emma Konopasek 0-1 6-6 6, Karissa Lecaptain 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 24-62 18-22 72. 3-pointers 6-21 (Price 4-10, Jeffrey 1-1, Moen 1-4) Rebounds 46 (Lof 9, Anderson 9, Moen 6) Assists 14 (Anderson 6) Steals 12 (Wagner 6) Blocks 0 Turnovers 16 Total Fouls 13.
Halftime Score: SCSU 30, SMSU 28.
SMSU got off to a rocky start to the game as the Dragons pulled out to an early 9-1 lead. SMSU responded with an 8-0 run later in the half and took a 26-24 lead after a three-point play by Ellen Degler. The teams played nearly even from there the rest of the half.
"We were just making plays offensively," Kruger said. "We had a few transition buckets and we just played basketball. Everything was clicking offensively, but we didn't have that same flow in the second half."
Nagel finished with eight points and 11 rebounds for the Mustangs, while Rebekah Rolling and Ellen Degler each scored 11. Degler also had six rebounds.
Other than Nagel and Degler, the rest of the Mustangs combined for 10 rebounds as the Dragons grabbed a 46-27 edge on the boards. Sixteen of MSU-Moorhead's rebounds were on the offensive end.
"They're not bigger than us and that was the frustrating thing," Kruger said of the rebounding disparity. "Their guards got rebounds and our guards didn't respond. When you play good defense but give up two or three offensive boards in a row, they're going to score. We hurt ourselves there because that wears you down."
Wednesday's game concluded a rough season for the Mustangs, who finished last in the NSIC standings and lost starting guard Bree Holleman to an arm injury during the season.
The record wasn't what Kruger was looking for from her team this year, but the effort was.
"It was a disappointing year from the aspect of wins and losses, but one thing I'll take from this season is the team never quit fighting and never gave up," she said. "Other teams might have gone in the other directions with the injuries and other things we went through, but we kept coming to work and kept battling.
"We'll have the same team coming back next season, so we'll need to go to work and start making ourselves better for next year."