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Eric Peterson, Published January 31 2012

Peterson: Walthall, Dragons aren't ready to panic after recent struggles

Moorhead - Chad Walthall used a once-familiar political phrase to articulate what his team needs to do to maneuver through a recent rocky stretch.

The Minnesota State Moorhead head men’s basketball coach wants his team to “stay the course.”

“I don’t want to overanalyze and overreact,” said Walthall, in his second season.

The course has been bumpy of late, with the Dragons (13-5, 9-5 NSIC) losing four Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference games in a row.

The latest was an 82-79 road loss against last-place Minnesota-Crookston on Saturday. While MSUM has cooled since an 11-0 start, which included seven conference wins, Walthall isn’t in panic mode. His approach hasn’t changed.

“I don’t think we treat it any differently than when we win games,” Walthall said. “You just move on to the next thing. We definitely need to play better defensively as a unit. We will start there.”

During its current losing streak, MSUM is allowing nearly 80 points per game.

That’s not the brand of defense that MSUM played when it was at the top of the NSIC and also ranked in the Division II Top 25.

Through 14 games, the Dragons were allowing opponents to 63 points per game, winning 13.

“We just got to get back to the basics,” said MSUM junior Alex Novak, who is averaging 10.3 points and 8.2 points per game. “A lot of our faults that we had could be hidden because we were winning. Now that we’re losing, we can see them a lot easier and go about fixing them.”

The schedule has also stiffened as the season has advanced. The Dragons played nine of their first 11 games at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. Five of the last seven have been on the road.

MSUM has played two top-20 teams in the last four games. The Dragons lost at home to Winona State, which is ranked No. 4 in this week’s D-II poll. They also had a road loss at No. 20 St. Cloud State.

“This is who exactly I thought we were, that we would have to play very, very well to win games,” Walthall said. “Nothing has changed from that. We haven’t played our best the last couple weeks and it’s shown.”

The Dragons return to Nemzek this weekend for two league games.

They host Northern State on Friday and the University of Mary on Saturday. Returning home could be the perfect elixir.

MSUM has a 10-1 mark at Nemzek this season.

“We’re at home. These are big games that we need to win,” Novak said. “I think it would be good for us to get that taste back, that winning feeling.”

The Dragons are a half game out of third place in the NSIC with eight games remaining in the regular season. They are on pace to improve on last season’s fifth-place league finish.

So Walthall isn’t ready to panic or relax.

“The league is so good,” Walthall said. “There is just no margin for error. If you don’t play very well, you’re going to get beat. That’s just the way the league is this year.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com