SMSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs fall short against UMC in closing stages, 65-61

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Lauren Hedlund tries to get past a University of Minnesota Crookston defender during their game on Friday. The Mustangs fell to the Golden Eagles 65-61.

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University women’s basketball team battled back from a seven-point halftime deficit in the second half, but the Mustangs struggled to find scoring in the closing minutes as the University of Minnesota Crookston held on to win 65-61 on Friday night.

SMSU finished the game shooting just 29 percent from the field including 5 of 26 from behind the arc while Crookston finished with a 39.1 percent mark from the floor (25 of 64) including 7 of 23 from three.

It was a tight defensive battle to start, with the Golden Eagles holding a 4-0 lead in the opening minutes. A 3-pointer from Sarah Buysse with six minutes left in the quarter put the first points on the board for the Mustangs, but SMSU struggled to find the scoring touch over the next few minutes.

Meanwhile on the other side, loose balls continued to bounce the Golden Eagles’ way, as offensive rebounds for UMC found second chance opportunities and would take advantage, building a 10-5 lead with 3:30 left in the opening frame. A 3-pointer by Caleigh Rodning would cut the deficit to as close as 13-10, but UMC held a 15-11 lead at the end of one.

Both teams would trade points to start the second as the Golden Eagles went up 24-19 midway through the quarter. Another bucket from Sarah Buysse cut it to within three points again, this time at 26-23, but the Golden Eagles closed the first half with a 6-2 run to take a 32-25 lead at the break.

The Mustangs struggled to get things going on the offensive end in the first 20 minutes, shooting just 24.2 percent from the field, including a 2 of 13 mark from beyond the 3-point line. The Golden Eagles shot 40 percent from the floor in the opening half, including 4 of 11 from behind the arc.

SMSU used a small run to start things off in the second half, getting back-to-back baskets to cut the deficit to 32-29 before a 3-point play from the Golden Eagles with 8:20 left gave UMC its first points of the half.

UMC would build a small lead over the next few minutes, but another run from the Mustangs tied things up at 37 before a Sadie Stelter layup gave SMSU its first lead of the game midway through the frame. Both teams then traded points over the next several possessions before another 3-pointer from SMSU, this time from Emily Buysse helped put the Mustangs back in front at 47-46. SMSU’s lead was short-lived, however, as UMC battled back to tie the game at 51-51 at the end of three.

The Golden Eagles kicked off the fourth quarter with consecutive 3-pointers to make it a six-point game, but SMSU continued to battle, cutting the deficit to just a pair on two separate occasions, with the latter coming at 61-59 with four minutes left.

After neither team could find the bottom of the basket for the next couple of minutes, the Golden Eagles got a layup to go with two minutes remaining to take a 63-59 lead, but Rodning answered on the other end with a layup of her own to bring it back to a two-point deficit.

SMSU would limit UMC to just a couple of free throws late, but couldn’t any closer down the stretch to retake the lead, and the Golden Eagles came away with the tight victory.

SMSU coach Tom Webb said they rebounded well and didn’t turn the ball over that much, but the shooting struggles were just too much to overcome.

“We just couldn’t make a basket. We defended fine, we didn’t defend great, but we defended fine. We rebounded well and went to the glass great and didn’t turn it over much,” Webb said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t force many turnovers and we just didn’t make a basket.”

Rodning led the way for the Mustangs with 19 points and 14 rebounds while Lauren Hedlund added 12 points and 12 boards as well. Rodning said offensively they tried to take advantage of a short bench for Crookston, but couldn’t get things to connect.

“They [Crookston] only played seven players so they were tired the entire game,” Rodning said. “Coach kept telling us to push the ball and attack, and we tried to do that but obviously it didn’t work.”

Webb said defensively they weren’t able to get into their press much throughout the game and when they did, Crookston was able to handle the pressure.

“We looked like a step slow; they handled our press really well and we couldn’t adjust,” Webb said. “We tried to make an adjustment but still couldn’t get steals. And when you don’t score baskets you can’t press either, so we didn’t get into the press a lot.”

The Mustangs (3-11) will look to bounce back with a matchup against Bemidji State University today at 5 p.m.