SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs open season with two road wins

SIOUX FALLS The Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs started their season off on the right foot as they picked up two non-conference wins over the weekend. SMSU defeated Fort Hays State 84-60 on Saturday before sneaking by Emporia State 77-74 on Sunday.

SMSU continues non-conference play on Tuesday night with a road game versus Northern State (1-1) at Wachs Arena in Aberdeen, S.D., starting at 8 p.m.

SMSU 77, Emporia State 74

KJ Davis poured in a team-high 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting with three 3-pointers to lead SMSU to a 77-74 victory over Emporia State at the NSIC/MIAA Challenge Sunday.

SMSU improves to 2-0 for the second time in three seasons and the third time since 2009-10.

Joey Bartlett and Mitch Weg each scored 12 points for the Mustangs, while Carter Kirk also reached double figures with 11 points. Bartlett reached a major milestone during the second half, becoming the 20th player in program history to score 1,000 career points.

SMSU finished the game shooting 48 percent (25 of 52) from the field, including 6 of 14 from 3-point range. SMSU held onto the victory despite committing 16 turnovers in the game and making just 9 of 18 free throws in the second half.

ESU (1-1), which defeated Sioux Falls on Saturday night, shot 51 percent (29 of 57) from the field, but was just 1 of 10 from 3-point range. The Hornets held a 33-30 rebound advantage.

SMSU held a 69-57 lead with less than six minutes left in the game, but ESU (1-1) rallied to tie the game at 70-70 with two minutes remaining. Weg hit one of two free throws to give SMSU the lead back with 1:42 remaining. Following a missed field goal by ESU, Weg answered with a huge basket to push the lead to 73-70 with 1:06 left in the game. After another ESU missed jumper, Ryan Bruggeman pushed the Mustang lead to 75-70 with a pair of free throws with 20 seconds on the clock.

ESU later cut the deficit to 77-74 with four seconds left and after two missed free throws by SMSU, the Hornets’ Brandon Hall had one last chance to tie the game, but his desperation 3-pointer was off the mark sealing the Mustang victory.

SMSU coach Brad Bigler thought the Mustangs played well down the stretch.

“It was a good collective effort. KJ (Davis) was able to make some 3’s throughout the game. Schafer got a big three in the second half that gave us a good cushion. Down the stretch, we got some good defensive stops with under two minutes to go that kind of sealed the game for us.”

ESU held a seven-point lead in the opening six minutes, before SMSU slowly cut into the lead. Davis gave SMSU its first lead of the game at 25-24 with a jumper at the 6:54 mark. The Mustangs later built their largest lead of the half at 37-28 following a field goal by Taylor Schafer with 3:19 remaining, before settling for a 39-36 halftime advantage.

ESU opened the second half with a field goal, but SMSU answered with a 10-0 run capped by a Bartlett basket to push the lead to 49-38.

SMSU held a 12-point lead on five different occasions later in the half, with the last coming at the 5:30 mark following a Schafer 3-pointer. ESU countered with a 13-1 run over the next three and a half minutes, taking advantage of three SMSU missed shots and a pair of turnovers to tie the game with two minutes remaining.

Bruggeman dished out a game-high six assists and chipped in with eight points, while Schafer finished with nine points.

SMSU 86, Fort Hays State 60

SMSU and Fort Hays State traded punches in the first half, but Schafer’s 13 points in the second along with five SMSU second half 3’s helped the Mustangs run away with an 84-60 win in its season opener.

Schafer hit three from behind the arc in the second and finished 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 on three point attempts to finish with a game-high 21 points. Schafer wasn’t alone on offense as Mitch Weg (17), Joey Bartlett (13), KJ Davis (11) and Turner Moen (11) made it five total Mustangs to reach double digits in scoring on the night.

SMSU finished the night 49 percent from the field and hit 17-21 free throws while taking advantage of 18 total points off turnovers. Fort Hays went just 1-of-10 from behind the three point arc and suffered from 19 total turnovers.

Bigler knew holding FHS to just one 3-pointer and forcing turnovers were big keys to the victory.

“I thought the guys came out and defended at a high level in that second half,” said Bigler. “Only holding them to one 3-point made on the night was crucial, as well as turn them over 19 times. I thought in order to do that, I thought our hands were active and we were able to make some plays on some balls. I thought the guys anticipated on defense a lot better, and have shown so much growth from last year, and hopefully they can keep it up.”

Fort Hays saw its largest lead of the game when it went ahead 26-22 on a three from Trey O’Neil, but the first half was tightly contested throughout. SMSU edged out a 39-34 lead at halftime as a 3-pointer from Bartlett and a layup from Bruggeman sent the Mustangs into the break.

The Mustangs saw their shooting trend upwards as they went 5-of-10 from three in the second after hitting just two three pointers in the first. SMSU forced eight second-half turnovers and also held a 22-12 advantage in the second half in points in the paint to salt away the 24-point victory.

Content courtesy of SMSU

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