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Eric Peterson, Published December 15 2012

Dragons upset No. 11-ranked St. Cloud State in men's basketball

MOORHEAD – Minnesota State Moorhead beat a team Saturday that head coach Chad Walthall wants his men’s basketball program to resemble.

Dragons senior Anthony Tucker scored a career-high 32 points Saturday at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. His performance helped lift MSUM to a 78-74 victory against No. 11-ranked St. Cloud State in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play.

“We have great respect for St. Cloud,” Walthall said. “I don’t think anyone has more respect for that program than me. They’re a mature program. We’re trying to emulate that a little bit.”

The Dragons (9-1, 4-1 NSIC) earned their first victory against St. Cloud State since 1997. The Huskies (7-1, 4-1) had won the nine previous meetings.

“I’m really impressed with Moorhead, the athletes that they have and the shooters that they have,” St. Cloud State head coach Kevin Schlagel said. “They are big and strong up front, so they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. That’s for sure.”

The Dragons led by as many as 19 points in the second half before weathering a late St. Cloud State rally. Huskies guard Shaun Jensen had a potential game-tying 3-pointer rim out with less than five seconds remaining in the second half. The 6-foot senior had a team-high 30 points.

“It’s a good thing that we made a good run to push the lead to as big as we did, because we couldn’t make any shots against their zone,” said Tucker, who also had three assists and five rebounds. “We found a way to win in the end, and that’s what matters.”

The Dragons looked primed to cruise to victory early in the second half. MSUM pushed its lead to 57-38 after Tucker drained a 3-pointer with 14 minutes, 30 seconds remaining.

“You feel like you got a hole in your stomach right now because why did it get to be 19,” Schlagel said.

The Huskies started to claw back into the game with a 16-2 run that trimmed the Dragons lead to four points. Sophomore forward Connor Niehaus fueled that rally, sinking three 3-point shots during that stretch. Niehaus trimmed the MSUM lead to 62-58 after he drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 7:30 remaining.

“There were some crazy things from our guys that I haven’t seen before, but give credit to St. Cloud,” Walthall said.

The Huskies got as close as two points in the final three minutes. St. Cloud State had a chance to tie the game in the final minute after an MSUM turnover with 19 seconds remaining. The Huskies trailed 77-74 when Jensen’s 3-point attempt rimmed out in the closing seconds. Dragons senior Alex Novak snagged the rebound and got fouled. Novak hit 1 of 2 foul shots to seal the victory. The 6-foot-9 forward was 1-for-6 from the foul line, but had a key dunk and blocked shot in the final two minutes.

“That’s what Alex does,” Tucker said. “He makes plays for us.”

The Dragons first took control in the first half with a 23-2 run that erased a 10-point St. Cloud State lead. Freshman guard Tyler Vaughan capped that rally with a 3-point shot that staked MSUM to a 33-22 lead with 6:47 to play until halftime.

“We couldn’t guard them,” Schlagel said of that stretch. “They just beat us off the bounce, and it wasn’t just one guy. It was several guys. Once it started it just kind of snowballed on us.”

Novak played just five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. The Dragons got quality minutes off the bench from senior Eric Olson. The 6-7 forward had nine points and eight rebounds in the opening half. Olson finished with nine rebounds to tie a career high.

“I think it gives our guys some confidence,” Walthall said of the victory. “We have a lot of guys who haven’t been in that situation before. Our roster is relatively new. … It’s a nice win to go into the holidays.”

SCSU (7-1, 4-1 NSIC): Jensen 13-22 2-2 30, Cruz 1-8 0-0 3, Rothstein 4-11 2-3 11, Niehaus 4-7 1-2 13, Fort 3-5 2-2 8, Levandoski 2-5 0-0 5, Poydras 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 1-6 2-3 4, Kalien 0-1 0-0 0, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Larson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-66 9-12 74.

MSUM (9-1, 4-1): Tucker 10-14 9-9 32, Riewer 5-12 2-2 13, Wohler 1-4 0-0 2, Novak 6-9 1-6 13, Filipek 1-4 1-2 3, Vaughan 1-5 0-0 3, Reinke 1-1 0-0 3, Olson 3-5 3-4 9. Totals 28-54 16-23 78.

Half: MSUM 44, SCSU 32. 3-point goals: SCSU 9-24 (Jensen 2-6, Cruz 1-5, Rothstein 1-3, Niehaus 4-5, Levandoski 1-3, Brown 0-1, Kalien 0-1), MSUM 6-21 (Tucker 3-6, Riewer 1-6, Wohler 0-3, Vaughan 1-5, Reinke 1-1). Total fouls: SCSU 15, MSUM 9. Technical foul: MSUM bench. Rebounds: SCSU 32 (Brown 6), MSUM 38 (Olson 9). Assists: SCSU 13 (Jensen 7), MSUM 13 (Riewer 4). Steals: SCSU 9 (Jensen 6), MSUM 7 (Vaughan 3). Turnovers: SCSU 9 (Rothstein 3, Niehaus 3), MSUM 14 (Tucker 5). A-1,050.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com