SMSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Quick start carries Cougars past SMSU

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Sadie Stelter drives past a University of Sioux Falls defender during their game on Saturday. The Mustangs fell to the Cougars 69-51.

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University women’s basketball team entered NSIC play with a tough task looming in front of them as the conference favorite University of Sioux Falls looked to continue its hot start to the season.

A strong opening quarter was more than enough for the Cougars as SMSU dropped its conference opener 69-51 on Saturday.

SMSU coach Tom Webb said they weren’t able to make shots early and that ended being the biggest difference.

“You have to make shots, and shots didn’t go early and with a young team if shots don’t go early, it’s going to be a hard night,” Webb said. “It is what it is, you take the first quarter out of it and it’s a six-point game, so it hurts you.”

The Cougars jumped out of the starting gates with a quick 11-0 run to take a 13-2 lead with 3:18 left before trading points the rest of the first quarter to take a 21-9 lead after one.

USF continued its hot start in the second quarter, going on a six-point spurt before SMSU answered with a 6-0 run of its own to make it a 12-point game at 27-15 with 5:28 to go in the first half. Both teams would then trade more points as USF maintained its double-digit lead at halftime at 37-22.

Sioux Falls would increase its lead in the beginning stages of the second half, building a 19-point advantage before a pair of free throws by Erin Baxter and a layup from Sara Teske brought it back to 15 at 47-32 with 3:35 left in the third, but the Cougars connected on a layup at the buzzer to keep a 51-36 advantage heading into the fourth.

SMSU would get as close as 13 to start the final frame, but couldn’t cut the deficit down from there as the Cougars earned its first conference win of the season with a 69-51 victory.

Meleah Reinhart led the way for the Mustangs with 13 points while Baxter added 10 and Abuk Akoi had seven. Four different SMSU players led in rebounding, with Baxter, Akoi, Caleigh Rodning and Sadie Stelter each collecting five while Jenna Borchers led in assists with two.

Stelter said their offensive possessions were working better when they were able to use their defense to help generate baskets on the other end of the floor.

“I think the short spurts when we played hard defense and ran the ball, that’s what really got us within range, I guess,” Stelter said. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we’ve got to look past that.”

SMSU shot 32.1 percent (18 of 56) from the field, including just 12 percent (3 of 25) from beyond the arc. USF shot 46.3 percent (31 of 67) from the floor, and also connected on only three 3-pointers (3 of 20).

SMSU (3-3) will face Minnesota State University, Mankato on Friday at 5:30 p.m.

Webb said the biggest takeaway is they have to get back to playing at their pace.

“You’ve got to play faster. That’s the biggest thing, we didn’t play very fast. When we did, we looked really good, when we didn’t, we didn’t look very good,” Webb said. “We’ve got to get back to who we are and what what we do. We’ll be fine, we’ll regroup and be okay, we just have to play faster.”