SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Mustangs get tripped up by Sioux Falls to begin NSIC play

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Ryan Bruggeman shoots a jumper during their game against the University of Sioux Falls on Saturday. The Mustangs fell to the Cougars 94-72.

MARSHALL – Both the Southwest Minnesota State University and University of Sioux Falls men’s basketball teams entered Saturday’s conference opener with identical 5-1 records and hopes of getting a strong start to NSIC play. The Cougars were able to find the right footing thanks to a solid shooting performance as USF earned a 94-72 victory over the Mustangs.

SMSU coach Brad Bigler said it really came down to the one-on-one battles and Sioux Falls did a better job of stopping the SMSU offense in those situations.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” Bigler said. “I thought they were tougher on the ball defensively and they did a great job of making it a one-on-one game and our ability to win those battles were hard to come by.”

It was a tight start as both teams showcased some early physicality before USF took an 11-4 lead thanks to a trio of 3-pointers. SMSU responded with a 3-pointer from Ryan Bruggeman and a pair of layups from Steven McNease and Nick Dufault to make it a two-point game at 15-13 with 10:56 left in the first half. A Kenny Byers layup would give the Mustangs their first lead of the night at 17-16 before Michael Lee pushed it to 20-16 with a three.

Unfortunately for SMSU, that would be the biggest lead it would see the entire night, as USF used a 10-0 run to take a 26-16 advantage. Both teams then traded points the rest of the opening half as the Cougars took a 45-33 lead into the locker rooms.

The Mustangs looked to get some momentum to start the second half but both teams would trade points in the opening minutes of the frame and SMSU couldn’t cut into the deficit. Holding at least a 12-point lead, the Cougars would later push it to 17 at 57-40 before a four-point play by Byers drew SMSU to within 13 with 14:21 left.

That would be the closest the Mustangs would get, as USF built its lead to 24 on its way to a 94-72 victory.

Bruggeman led the way for the Mustangs with 31 points while Lee added 15 and Byers had 10. McNease led in rebounds with nine while Bruggeman led in assists with seven.

Bigler said offensively, they were just trying to be more unselfish with their possessions and get looks into the paint but USF was able to do a good job of defending the inside game of the Mustangs.

“I think we were just trying to be a little more unselfish and get the ball moving and get multiple paint touches,” Bigler said. “But again, they did a great job of defending the ball and keeping us out of the paint and you’ve got to tip your cap; they just had a great defensive effort.”

SMSU shot 41 percent (25 of 61) from the field, including 36.4 percent (8 of 22) from the 3-point line. USF connected on 56.4 percent of its shots (31 of 55), including 52.6 percent (10 of 19) from the arc.

SMSU (5-2) will continue its homestand next weekend, starting with a matchup against Minnesota State University, Mankato on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Bigler said the Mavericks will be just as challenging as SMSU looks to get its first conference win of the season.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Bigler said. “We have Mankato coming in, the preseason favorites with USF, they’re a team that’s just as athletic, just as talented and we’ll have our hands full.”