SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Key defensive stops down the stretch help Mustangs hold on against the University of Mary to earn weekend sweep

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Ryan Bruggeman goes in for a layup during their game against the University of Mary on Saturday. The Mustangs defeated the Marauders 79-71.

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University men’s basketball team – coming off of a momentum-building NSIC victory over Minot State University on Friday – made it two in a row on Saturday thanks to a well-balanced effort on offense and a stifling performance on defense to defeat University of Mary 79-71, and improve to 5-7 in conference play.

For SMSU coach Brad Bigler, the opportunistic defensive stops loomed large in the outcome of the game but went on to identify areas of their game in need of improvement moving forward.

“You know I thought defensively from our base system we executed at a high level,” said Bigler. “Obviously with 17 turnovers and then giving them 16 offensive rebounds there’s a lot of things to improve, on but we shot the ball well. We got stops at the right times and were able to pull it out.”

Much like their start to their previous outing against the Beavers, the Mustangs did not take long to get dialed in from beyond the arc with Michael Lee and Nick Dufault striking first with six of the team’s first 10 points.

Ryan Bruggeman, coming off a dominant 34-point performance against Minot State, picked up where he left off with back-to-back threes of his own before Braedan Hansen drained his first of four 3-pointers of the night to give the Mustangs an early 25-18 lead.

Hoping to keep pace with the sharp-shooting Mustangs in the first half, the Marauders took 11 3-point shots and only made one, as their best outside shooter in Tom Kubank was ice-cold from the field.

Matthew Kreklow, another key piece of their offensive system, had his own troubles getting into rhythm, thanks in large part to a well-executed defensive strategy set up by Bigler.

“I think our goal was to keep the ball out of Kreklow’s hands and to make other guys beat us,” said Bigler. “I thought Kreklow only had five shot attempts. He wasn’t able to kind of facilitate within the offense and thankfully for us Kubank was cold going one for six.”

Guided by the strong performance on both ends of the floor, the Mustangs held a 39-30 lead heading into halftime with Bruggeman leading the way in scoring with 17 points.

Unwilling to provide the Marauders with an opening to get back into the game, the Mustang offense went back to work in the second half and received a substantial boost from Dufault early on with three consecutive made shots from beyond the arc to give SMSU its largest lead of the game at 58-40.

Possessing an arsenal of strong outside shooters, Bigler elected to stick with the hot hand in Dufault after Taylor Schafer made the most of his opportunity in their previous outing against Minot State.

“I think it’s one of those things now where Nick and Tay (Schafer), whoever’s hitting shots and is playing with confidence is going to get that opportunity and it was Nick’s night,” He stepped up and made some big shots for us.”

Down the stretch of the second half, the Marauders would cut the deficit to only seven points with a minute left to play but were unable to mount the comeback as the Mustangs picked up the 79-71 victory.

The Mustangs ended the night with three players in double figures, including Bruggeman with a game-high 28 points to go along with three rebounds and seven assists. Hanson finished with 17 points on 4 of 8 from three, while Dufault tallied 14 points on 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Kenny Byers finished with a team-high seven rebounds to go along with six points and a pair of assists.

Next up for the Mustangs will be a road game against Winona State University on Friday.