SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs outlast Peacocks in conference bout, 93-86

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Carter Kirk slams home a dunk during the second half of their game against Upper Iowa University on Friday. The Mustangs defeated the Peacocks 93-86.

MARSHALL – It was a battle of two heavyweights in the NSIC Conference on Friday night at the R/A Facility, as the Southwest Minnesota State University men’s basketball team squared off against Upper Iowa University. In a back-and-forth affair that went down to the final minutes, the Mustangs were able to emerge victorious with a 93-86 win over the Peacocks.

The Mustangs were able to get the first couple of swings to start, building a 10-4 lead before a 3-pointer by KJ Davis extended SMSU’s lead to 17-8 with 14 minutes left in the first half. Both teams would then trade baskets throughout the next few possessions, with SMSU holding a small lead at 21-13.

SMSU then caused problems for UIU with strong defense and key takeaways, which led to open looks for the Mustangs. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Taylor Schafer and Nick Dufault gave SMSU its first double digit lead of the night at 29-15, before more big shots by the Mustangs gave themselves its biggest lead of the half at 38-23.

Upper Iowa wouldn’t go away, however, as they cut the deficit to 41-30 with 1:30 left in the opening half, but a layup for SMSU stopped the bleeding. The Peacocks were able to cut it to a 10-point lead with under 30 seconds left, but a strong drive to the rim by Davis earned the guard a trip to the free-throw line with 20 seconds to go. He hit both from the line, but Upper Iowa hit a three before the halftime buzzer to cut the deficit to single digits at 45-36.

Both teams traded points to start the second half before a pair collage of technical fouls on either side thanks to some chippy play led to a pair of free throws from Ryan Bruggeman to keep the Mustangs up.

SMSU then got a basket plus the foul from Michael Lee before a key 3-pointer from Bruggeman gave the Mustangs a 59-44 lead. More ball movement from the SMSU offense led to open looks, as Bruggeman connected on another triple to give SMSU a 64-54 lead with 12 minutes to go.

UIU would hang around, though, cutting the deficit to within six midway through the half before the Peacocks later cut it to four, 83-79, with three minutes left. The Peacocks then got a three from Joe Smoldt to cut it to one with 1:44 left, but on the next SMSU possession Davis followed his own miss and was fouled at the rim, earning a trip to the free-throw line. He made both, putting the Mustangs back up three at 85-82 with 1:20 left.

UIU then got a layup to go with a minute to cut it back to one, but Bruggeman got past the Peacock defense and got a floating layup to bank off the glass for the answer. Upper Iowa cut it to three with 30 seconds left, but four free throws from Davis sealed the win for the Mustangs.

SMSU coach Brad Bigler said they had key guys in foul trouble, but was pleased with some of his freshman who stepped up to the challenge.

“We got a little bit in foul trouble and that made a couple of our freshman step up,” Bigler said. “I think we grew tonight; we found a way to win when we were undermanned. It was a good team win.”

Bruggeman led the way for the Mustangs with 24 points while Davis added 19 and Carter Kirk had 13. Kirk led in rebounds with eight while Kenny Byers had seven. Bruggeman led in assists with nine.

Bruggeman said their key on offense was unselfish play and finding the open guy as well as getting out in transition.

“We were playing just really unselfish. We were making that extra pass and guys were getting open looks and knocking them down,” Bruggeman said. “Our defense was really sparking us early, getting out in transition and it was good to see guys get in rhythm early.”

Bigler said on defense it was a battle of runs and Upper Iowa was scoring on isolated plays, but added he was pleased with how his team finished those plays defensively, especially down the stretch.

“They went on their run and they were scoring a lot of one-on-one buckets over bodies,” Bigler said. “On defense a lot of times that’s what you want them to do and I thought they did a great job of finishing one-on-one and making plays.”

SMSU (5-3) will face Winona State University today at 7 p.m.