SMSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs net first victory of the season over Waldorf

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University women’s basketball team entered Saturday’s game against Waldorf College looking to put a 14-game home losing streak and a winless start to the 2017 season out of sight and out of mind.

Thanks to a strong performance on both ends, the Mustangs snapped both streaks with a 71-56 win over the Warriors.

Junior guard Sarah Buysse had a strong showing on the offensive side with a total of 18 points for the Mustangs, finishing one point shy of her career-high of 19 points.

Buysse and the Mustangs have been working extremely hard in practice, trying to find their connection out on the court, which showed against Waldorf.

“We had a great week of practice, working especially on offense execution, being passive and aggressive with the ball. On defense we don’t want to give up any easy shots; rebounding is a big thing on defense for us as well as just playing hard,” said Buysse.

The Mustangs finished the night with 11 blocks, with Caleigh Rodning and Abuk Akoi contributing to that total with three each. SMSU had a successful night shooting (13 of 17) from the free-throw line, but struggled finding their connections on the three-point line shooting (4 of 18), overall (27 of 73). The Mustangs also held the Warriors to zero fast breaks, compared to 11 for SMSU.

Buysse got the Mustangs off to a hot start in the first quarter, connecting on every shot she took for a quick six early. The offensive quickly cooled off the rest of the quarter as the struggles continued for the Mustangs in the second quarter as SMSU just hit three field goals of their 15 attempts. SMSU attacked the rim, though, earning multiple trips to the free throw line. The Mustangs showed strong defense and didn’t give the Warriors any fast break opportunities, to hold Waldorf to a four point lead at the end of the first quarter, (22-18).

Despite SMSU’s success at the line, the game saw four ties and seven lead changes in the quarter ask the Mustangs remained still down four (35-31) heading into the remainder of the half.

SMSU continued to slowly creep back into its offense in the third quarter, getting a layup by Rodning and a 3-pointer from Emily Buysse to close the gap to one point (37-36) with 7:34 left in the quarter. The two teams would then trade baskets, leading to another 3-pointer from Emily Buysse, the teams now sit at 40 a piece. Sarah Buysse then gave the Mustangs their first lead of the second half with 3:52 left of the third quarter. Another 3-pointer from Emily Buysse extended SMSU’s advantage to (47-44) near the end of the quarter. Senior Lauren Hedlund, who entered Saturday just 12 points shy of joining the 1,000-point club, she found her first baskets of the night in back-to-back layups near the end of the third to give SMSU a (51-47) lead.

In the fourth quarter the Mustangs’ defense came alive, as they would hold the Warriors scoreless in the first 5 minutes of the frame. SMSU also forced six Waldorf turnovers in the fourth, leading to more layups from four different Mustangs to extend their lead to (62-47) with 4:26 left. The largest lead of the game was held by the Mustangs in the final minutes of the game, with a 16 point lead over the Warriors. Waldorf closed the gap on SMSU but couldn’t close in on them, giving the Mustangs their first home win since their victory over Bemidji State University during the 2015-16 season.

Rodney added 13 points, and Buysse with nine to add to SMSU’s offensive effort. Rodning led in rebounds with 10 while Hedlund added seven. Meleah Reinhart led in assists with three.

Being such a young team this year, Buysse and the rest of the returners have had to step up and lead the newcomers, as SMSU goes into conference games.

“Us returners have to lead and talk a lot in practice and help them grow and learn. Every other rotation is a whole new lineup,” said Buysse. “We’re really excited for conference games; it was nice to get one win under our belt before playing conference teams. We know that Sioux Falls is a good team but we’re excited to open up conference play.”

The Mustangs (1-2) will open up conference play against the University of Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls, S.D., next Saturday, and will hold their first home conference match on Dec. 1 against Upper Iowa University in the R/A Facility.

SMSU head coach Tom Webb said the key to their win was being aggressive with the ball and not taking those quick shots and figuring each other out because of the team being so young.

“We started passing the ball better during the second half, the first half we were just taking quick and bad shots. The second half we started being more aggressive,” said Webb. “Being so young we’re still to figure each other out, everyone plays different positions and different playing time. We’re just trying to get continuity and unity, those two things will put us in good shape.”