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Eric Peterson, Published February 26 2014

VIDEO: Dragons men advance to NSIC tournament quarterfinals

MOORHEAD – Nursing a one-point lead, Minnesota State Moorhead point guard Malik Wood elevated for a jump shot near the top of the key – swish.

Those two points with less than a minute remaining in the second half helped lift the Dragons to a 68-64 victory against Concordia-St. Paul in the first round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s basketball tournament at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse.

“Anything I can do to help this team win, that was my mindset,” said Wood, who scored a team-high 16 points and added four assists.

The Dragons (20-7) advanced to the NSIC quarterfinals and will play Upper Iowa at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Wednesday’s victory gave MSUM 20 wins for the second time in three seasons. The winner of the NSIC tournament earns an automatic bid for the NCAA Division II tournament.

“We have won a lot of close games,” Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said. “I think we’re comfortable in that now. We need to play better. If we don’t play better Saturday, we will not advance.”

The Dragons shot 36 percent from the field against the Golden Bears, but offset that poor shooting with 18 offensive rebounds. They also committed only six turnovers.

“When you shoot a low percentage, you better take care of the ball, and you better offensive rebound because you need extra shots,” Walthall said.

Late in the second half, Wood drained four consecutive free throws, with the final one in that string giving the Dragons to a 60-54 lead with 2 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. Concordia-St. Paul, however, countered with the next five points, including a Travon Mitchell 3-pointer that cut the MSUM lead to 60-59 with 1:15 remaining.

Wood answered with his critical shot from the top of the key that went through the basket with only a few seconds remaining on the shot clock. That shot gave the Dragons a 62-59 lead with 43 seconds remaining.

“He’s starting to play with a lot better poise and running the team,” Walthall said of Wood. “He was key tonight. He played well.”

The Dragons were able to protect that lead, making 6 of 6 free throws in the final 20 seconds. Point guard Jordan Riewer made four of those important foul shots, making his return to the court after missing the past seven games with a broken hand. Riewer made his final two free throws with four seconds to play for the game’s final points.

“There is nobody else, including myself, on the team that I would rather have on the line than Jordan,” Wood said. “He doesn’t miss. He did what a captain was supposed to do.”

Riewer, who is shooting 95 percent from the foul line, played 12 minutes Wednesday (his first game since Jan. 31). The 6-foot-2 junior was 0-for-3 from the field and finished with four points.

“We’re a lot better with Jordan,” Walthall said. “It’s just trying to figure out how we go about getting him back into the rotation. The nice thing is he’s got an extremely high basketball IQ.”

The Dragons hung close in the first half, even though Concordia-St. Paul shot a blistering 70 percent (14 of 20) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, taking a 37-33 lead into halftime. In a game that featured 14 lead changes, neither team led by more than six points.

Dragons junior forward Urbane Bingham sank a 3-pointer that gave the Dragons a 50-47 lead with 8:30 remaining in the second half. MSUM never trailed from that point.

“We didn’t play as well as we’d like, but we came away with the win,” Wood said. “We haven’t had any easy games all year. Everybody is at the same level of play right now, so you have to come with it every night.”

CONCORDIA-SP (8-19): Crockett 3-8 1-2 9, Mitchell 5-11 1-2 12, Smith 5-6 0-0 14, VanPelt 4-6 2-2 11, Yahnke 3-8 1-3 7, Halvorsen 2-2 2-7 6, Mandli 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 24-45 8-18 64.

MSUM (20-7): Clark 3-7 3-6 12, Williams 3-8 0-0 7, Wood 5-10 5-6 16, Vaughan 2-10 2-2 6, Filipek 1-7 0-2 2, Songolo 0-2 2-2 2, Riewer 0-3 4-4 4, Lien 3-7 2-2 9, Bingham 5-6 0-0 11, Sevlie 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-63 18-24 68.

Half: CSP 37, MSUM 33. 3-point goals: CSP 8-17 (Crockett 2-4, Mitchell 1-4, Smith 4-5, VanPelt 1-3, Yahnke 0-1), MSUM 4-20 (Williams 1-3, Wood 1-3, Vaughan 0-5, Filipek 0-2, Songolo 0-1, Riewer 0-2, Lien 1-3, Bingham 1-1). Total fouls: CSP 20, MSUM 15. Fouled out: Smith. Rebounds: CSP 28 (Crockett 5, Yahnke 5), MSUM 41 (Clark 12). Assists: CSP 13 (Crockett 9), MSUM 11 (Wood 4). Steals: CSP 5 (Crockett 2), MSUM 10 (Clark 3). Turnovers: CSP 15 (Smith 6), MSUM 6 (Clark 3). A-701.

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

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