SMSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: A strong start
SMSU women’s basketball begins season with sweep over Minot State
MARSHALL — Running onto the court Saturday for their season and home opener to no fans, Southwest Minnesota State University guard Meleah Reinhart described it as a “weird” feeling at first.
“Originally, it was really weird but once you’re playing you don’t really notice it,” Reinhart said. “Obviously there was no yelling or anything coming from the stands but we were really focused; when you’re on the bench, you notice it a little more, but it wasn’t as strange as I was expecting it to be.”
Despite not having a crowd to play for due to COVID-19 restrictions, it didn’t stop the Mustang women’s basketball team from bringing the noise to start the year. After earning a 74-62 victory over the Beavers on Saturday to open the season, SMSU used a different approach but found a similar result Sunday with a 73-58 win to sweep Minot State University. Both games were considered non-conference games due to the restructured Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedule this year because of COVID-19.
SMSU coach Tom Webb said they were able to show their depth as a team over the first couple of games of the season and it helped make things tough for their opponent.
“We showed our depth and it really makes it tough for teams to guard all five positions on the floor,” Webb said. “That’s something we’ve planned and hoped for; we also need to get better defensively and continue to crash the glass.”
The Mustangs held an early 6-4 lead before Sadie Stelter connected on a 3-pointer to make it 9-6 with six minutes left in the frame. Consecutive baskets by Abuk Akoi pushed SMSU’s advantage to 13-6 before the Mustangs defense showed its strength over the next few possessions, holding Minot State scoreless for five-plus minutes. SMSU would build its lead to as many as 11 before a 3-pointer by the Beavers in the final minute made it 17-9 after one.
Both teams then traded points to begin the second quarter, with Minot State cutting the deficit to single digits before a layup made it a six-point contest at 22-16 with 4:30 left in the first half. SMSU quickly responded, though, getting a triple by Stelter before Jenna Borchers had a six-point scoring run in the final minute, including a 3-point play with five seconds left to give the Mustangs a double-digit advantage going into halftime at 35-22.
Looking to build on its momentum, SMSU went on a 6-2 run to start the third before Minot countered with an 8-0 burst of its own to cut the deficit back to single digits at 41-32 with 4:53 left in the frame. Once again, however, the Mustangs were quick to answer, pushing their lead back up thanks to baskets by Erin Baxter and Akoi before Baxter got another layup to go to make it 52-38 with 1:33 left in the quarter.
SMSU stayed in control the rest of the way, never letting its lead get below a 12-point margin. A 3-pointer by Reinhart made it 65-48 with 4:10 left and Borchers pushed their advantage to as many as 21 at 73-52 with a triple of her own with 1:55 remaining en route to the 15-point victory.
Webb added he was pleased with how his team responded to Minot’s runs throughout the game.
“There were a couple of times where Minot made their runs and we were able to respond by getting to the rim or hitting a three, so that was a very positive thing for the future,” Webb said.
The Mustangs had five players in double figures in scoring, led by Borchers’ 15 points, followed by 11 from Baxter and Stelter and 10 apiece by Reinhart and Akoi. SMSU shot 46.7% from the field (28 of 60) and connected on 10 3-pointers (10 of 26).
SMSU out-rebounded Minot State 38-31 and forced 12 Beaver turnovers. Defensively, the Mustangs held Minot to 41% shooting from the field (25 of 61), including just 2 of 15 from 3-point range.
“We stuck to our defensive principles and we boxed out and rebounded well so they couldn’t get any second-chance opportunities,” Baxter said.
Minot State 62
In the opener, the Mustangs raced out to a quick start at 12-7 thanks to a trio of 3-pointers from Jenna Borchers, Meleah Reinhart and Sadie Stelter before Minot State answered with a 6-0 run to retake the lead with 3:20 to play in the opening quarter. SMSU battled back, though, getting layups from Sara Teske and Stelter before Stelter connected on a triple to give the Mustangs a 19-15 lead after one.
Both teams traded points over the next several minutes, with the lead never getting above four points. After a layup by Minot State put the Beavers ahead 22-21 with seven minutes left in the first half, SMSU responded by going on an 8-3 run capped on a three by Madison Gehloff to make it 29-25 with 4:32 to go in the frame. Minot State hit a 3-pointer of its own to draw to within one, but a 3-pointer from freshman Hannah Parsley and a Reinhart layup helped SMSU take a 34-28 advantage going into the locker rooms.
The Mustangs kept the momentum going in the beginning minutes of the third quarter, as they used a pair of layups by Stelter and a 3-point play from Gehloff to build a double-digit lead at 41-30 with 6:21 left in the frame. Minot State would answer by cutting the deficit to six on a pair of occasions, but SMSU pushed its advantage back to double-digits both times, including leading by as many as 13 at 52-39 with 1:45 to go in the quarter.
The Beavers continued to battle, however, going on a 6-0 run to close the third before getting consecutive layups to start the fourth to make it a three-point game at 52-49. SMSU then responded quickly with baskets by Abuk Akoi, Parsley and Stelter to go up nine at 60-51 with 6:24 left. Minot State got as close as six, but the Mustangs finished the game by outscoring the Beavers 14-8 in the final six minutes to earn the 12-point win.
Webb said their biggest adjustment was just having his players refocus and get some stops and get out in transition.
“A little bit is just locking in with our rotation. Locking in, getting some stops and making some baskets,” Webb said. “They like to play fast and so do we, and we showed our experience during that time so it was pretty impressive that way.”
Reinhart led SMSU with 20 points while Stelter added 18 and Borchers had 11. Caleigh Rodning, playing in her first game since an injury derailed the remainder of her season after six games last year, dished out four assists while Teske had nine rebounds. The Mustangs controlled the glass Saturday, out-rebounding the Beavers 46-31, including a 13-1 advantage in offensive rebounds. SMSU also outscored Minot State 10-0 in second-chance points on the game.
Reinhart said rebounding is something they’ve stressed leading up to the season and was glad to see their hard work pay off in the opener.
“One of our goals is to outrebound them and if we can reach three of the four goals we’re in good shape,” Reinhart said. “Each offensive rebound is another possession, so we got 13 more possessions. It’s been an importance that has been stressed in practice in the last several weeks and it definitely paid off.”
A trio of Mustang players moved up in the all-time lists over the weekend. In Saturday’s opener, Rodning had five rebounds to become the 11th player in team history to record 600 rebounds. On Sunday, Akoi had two blocks to pass Shelly Honermann for second on the all-time blocks list and is now at 143 for her career. Finally, Stelter connected on four 3-pointers in the two games combined to move into fourth in 3-pointers made, also at 143 for her career.
SMSU (2-0) will hit the road to face Winona State University in a pair of games starting Friday at 6 p.m. before closing the weekend with a 2 p.m. matchup on Saturday. Baxter said their biggest takeaway will be taking things one day at a time and keep improving on the defensive end.
“We need to go day-by-day and continue to work on defense and hit our threes,” Baxter said. “The games are only going to get harder here on out.”