SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Bigler becomes all-time leader in wins as Mustangs escape against Winona State

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Brad Bigler calls out a play during their game against Winona State University on Saturday. Bigler became the all-time leader in wins at 142 for a SMSU men’s coach, surpassing Greg Stemen.

MARSHALL – Another day, another tight finish for the Southwest Minnesota University men’s basketball team.

After holding on to beat Upper Iowa on Friday, the Mustangs found themselves locked in another battle on Saturday, this time against the Winona State University Warriors. It came down to a final shot, but SMSU was able to escape with a 79-76 victory at the R/A Facility.

The Mustangs held a 73-65 lead with 4:32 left in the game before the Warriors went on a 6-2 run to cut it to 75-71 with 2:30 remaining. On SMSU’s next possession, Ryan Bruggeman drilled an elbow jumper to stop the run, but Winona State stayed close, getting a 3-point play to cut the deficit to just one at 77-76 with 1:07 left.

Bruggeman then wound down the clock before driving hard to the hoop, drawing a foul with 12.1 seconds remaining. He would hit both, and Devin Whitelow’s desperation three for the Warriors fell short, sealing the win for the Mustangs.

The finish was a fitting end to a back-and-forth affair all night long, as Winona State held a slim 6-4 lead in the game’s opening minutes. Both teams would then trade points over the next several possessions, before a Kolin Bartlett jumper gave SMSU the lead.

WSU then caught fire from behind the 3-point line, hitting four consecutive shots from the perimeter to build a 25-14 lead. SMSU fought back, however, going on a 13-4 run of its own to cut the deficit to 29-27 with 5:48 left. An 8-0 answer by the Warriors gave WSU another double-digit lead before a 3-pointer by Nick Dufault helped stop the bleeding.

The Mustangs would cut it to 39-35 but couldn’t get any closer in the first half as WSU held the four-point lead at the half.

Just like the first half, the game would be back and forth to start, as the game was tied at 42. More baskets would be traded, with the Warriors still shooting hot from the perimeter, holding a 52-49 lead with 13:30 left. That would be the last time WSU led in the game, however, as Taylor Schafer connected on a 3-pointer to knot the game at 52.

The Mustangs would go on another run to go up seven, 63-56, with under nine minutes to go before WSU battled back to cut it to three at 68-65 with a little more than five minutes left. A 3-pointer by Bruggeman gave SMSU a 73-65 advantage, setting the stage for the close finish.

The win also was a special one for ninth-year head coach Brad Bigler, who became the program’s all-time leader in victories at 142, surpassing Greg Stemen.

Bigler said getting to this point in his career can be attributed to many factors, including what he’s learned from the previous head coaches.

“Anyone who’s been in this situation, they know it’s so much more than about yourself. I know that the three previous head coaches have all made an impact on me, given me opportunities and I know that all three of them are more than just basketball,” Bigler said. “To learn from those three was something that set the foundation for me to be here as well as my father and his philosophies over the years being a high school coach for 30-some years. I’m also very appreciative of all the guys that have just sacrificed; we’ve had a lot of success with guys who have just overachieved. It’s fun to coach guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to be something bigger than themselves.”

Bruggeman led the way for the Mustangs with 24 points, marking the third straight 20-point game for the point guard. Schafer added 14 points while Turner Moen chipped in 12. Carter Kirk led in rebounds with nine while Bruggeman led in assists with six.

Moen said their key on offense was getting the ball into Bruggeman’s hands down the stretch as well as taking advantage of WSU’s mistakes in the second half.

“Obviously we wanted to get the ball in Ryan’s hands; he can make plays with anyone,” Moen said. “We caught on toward the end of the game that we found something that they maybe hadn’t practiced as much, and we were able to use that and make some big shots.”

Defensively, Bigler said they were forced to scramble a little bit with the Warriors’ ability to shoot from outside, but felt they adjusted well and made the necessary plays.

“We were scrambling a lot of the night; they were putting a lot of pressure on us and have five guys who have the ability to shoot the three,” Bigler said. “We made some mistakes early, but we were able to adjust and make the plays that we needed to.”

SMSU (6-3) will hit the road next weekend to face the University of Minnesota Duluth on Friday at 8 p.m. and St. Cloud State University next Saturday. Bigler said their biggest takeaway will be to be ready for the newest challenges that will be presented to them.

“I think we got a lot of room for improvement, and I think our guys understand that,” Bigler said. “I think our guys know next week’s challenges, and there’s going to be a lot of more details in the scouting report. There’s going to be a lot more details that we’re going to have to handle to come out with those wins, and we’re up for the challenge.

WSU 39 37-76

SMSU 35 44-79

SCORING: SMSU 27-55, 49.1 percent (Bruggeman 7-13, 9-9 24; Schafer 4-9, 2-2 14; Moen 4-10, 2-3 12; Davis 4-6 1-2 9).

3-POINT FGS: SMSU 10-23, 43.5 percent (Schafer 4; Moen, Dufault 2).

REBOUNDS: SMSU 31 (Kirk 9; Moen 5).

ASSISTS: SMSU 14 (Bruggeman 6).

STEALS: SMSU 4 (Davis, Moen, Kirk, Byers 1).

BLOCKS: SMSU 1 (Kirk).