SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: More than a game

MARSHALL -?The Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs men’s basketball team opened their exhibition season with a 71-69 win over the SMSU Alumni team Saturday.

It was more than just a game though, as the matchup was part of the sixth annual Andy Wiersma Day at SMSU.

“I think this game is so much more than basketball,” said SMSU men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler. “For our guys, it’s a great learning experience. It gives us a chance to talk about what it means to be a Mustang and how they can make an impact in the community by doing just the little things – how they represent themselves, their families and our program at a high level.”

Wiersma was a member of the Mustangs for five seasons, from 2001 to 2006. He was killed in an auto accident on July 27, 2008.

A four-year letterwinner at SMSU from 2002-06, he played in 112 career games while starting 36 times. He recorded 418 points and 237 rebounds in his career, while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

He may have only finished his career with a scoring average of 3.7 points per game, but it was the plays that didn’t show up in the scorebook that stood out to his fellow Mustangs. One of those Mustangs was Jacob Fahl, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Wiersma redshirted during Fahl’s junior year before the two saw playing time together on the 2002-03 team.

“He was the ultimate teammate – always positive, took charges, and there was a toughness to him,” said Fahl. “He knew how to do a lot of things. He was a fun guy to be around.”

Each of the four years he played, Wiersma won the team’s Mustang Award. The award is given yearly to a member of the team who exemplifies the qualities of being a Mustang student-athlete. After Wiersma graduated, the award was renamed the Andy Wiersma Mustang Award in his honor.

Honoring AW

The day for the two teams started at the Marshall Cemetery.

“It’s part of the tradition,” Bigler said. “It’s an environment that catches the attention of the new guys, and it allows us in a quiet place to talk about what it means to be a Mustang.”

The tradition’s importance isn’t lost on the veterans of the grogram, however.

“I think it’s important to talk to some of the younger guys and teach them about the tradition of Mustang basketball,” said junior forward Mitch Weg. “A few older guys talked, and they talked about what they thought being a Mustang is all about. For me, that’s really cool to hear. It gives you something else to play for.”

The game

There was still a game to be played on the floor.

SMSU had a 64-57 lead with under a minute remaining, but the Alumni chipped away at the lead. With the score at 69-68 with 4 seconds left, Weg made two free throws to give the Mustangs a 71-69 win.

Weg spent a lot of time at the free throw line, scoring 17 of his team-high 19 points there.

It’s a game that Bigler knows is a yearly test for his squad.

“Like always, this is probably the most physical game we play all year,” Bigler said. “When you look across and see Vinard Birch, Matt Zager, Jordan Miller and Nick Smith who are young guys that basically started four years and were all-conference players, you knew it was going to be a battle.”

Jon DeRock led the Alumni with 12 points.

SMSU is now 5-1 against the SMSU Alumni, including five consecutive wins in the series.

Next up

The Mustangs have just under a few weeks to prepare for their next game. The Mustangs will face the University of Minnesota on Nov. 6. SMSU?has faced the Gophers twice, with the last meeting coming in 2007.

Opening tip from Williams Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.