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Tom Savage / Special to The Forum, Published March 03 2014

Dragons fall in semifinals of NSIC men's basketball tournament

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – For a team that averages 85 points per game, Minnesota State Moorhead’s men’s basketball team had a tough time scoring Monday in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference semifinals.

The Dragons managed just 29 first-half points and trailed by 13 at the break. They were never able to get the deficit to single digits as Winona State cruised to a 70-53 victory at the Pentagon.

For as bad as the Dragons were shooting in the first half, it didn’t help that Winona State shot a blistering 57 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. MSUM managed just nine made field goals in the first half and were outscored 20-6 in the paint. The Dragons were also outrebounded 22-10 in the first half.

“That’s the best defensive performance I’ve coached against in the league in four years,” said MSUM head coach Chad Walthall. “It was unbelievable. We didn’t play our best, but a lot of that was because of them. They were just outstanding.”

Winona State led by as many as 19 in the first half, but the Dragons cut into the lead late in the half. They outscored Winona 11-5 in the final three minutes of the half for a bit of a surge heading to the locker room.

That momentum never transferred to the second half as Winona went on a 10-3 run to open the second half and the game was essentially over.

“We tried to open the floor, but we were down and with 10 or 15 minutes left in the game, we started to force it. We tried to make home-run plays,” Walthall said. “They just controlled it and beat us in every phase. The game was won because they locked in on their half-court defense.

The lead grew to 20 in the second half when Winona State’s Isaiah Gray scored to make it 61-41 with 8 minutes, 01 second to play. If the Dragons had any chance of getting back in it, they fortunately got into the bonus early with 6:30 to play.

However, MSUM was unable to cut into the lead with the free-throw advantage, going to the line only once while in the bonus.

“I was very, very surprised,” Winona State coach Mike Leaf said of MSUM’s failure to make a run in the second half. “I thought for sure when we came out to start the second half that there was going to be more pressure and some trapping. I told our guys that they needed to weather the storm. When we had a timeout after five minutes, I told our guys that there was no storm, so now let’s attack.”

Mark Blacklock led the Warriors with 23 points and seven rebounds. Blacklock finished the day 9-for-11 from the field.

“We knew they were a good offensive team and they like to shoot the 3, which is hard to guard when they get penetration like they do,” Blacklock said. “We stressed on handling our man one-on-one. We’d help if it was needed, but we needed to focus on our own guys. I thought we did that pretty well. If they did penetrate, I thought our help and rotation was really good.”

MSUM shot just 33 percent from the field for the game including a 7-for-24 effort from behind the 3-point line.

WINONA STATE (26-6): Kellen Taylor 4 4-4 14, Josh Mongan 1 2-2 4, Riley Bambenek 4 0-0 8, Kyle Bauman 0 0-0 0, Mark Blacklock 9 4-5 22, Conrad Masberg 5 3-4 14, Isaiah Gray 3 1-2 8, Nick Arenz 0 0-0 0, Kyle Melcher 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 14-17 70

MSU MOORHEAD (21-8): Tarell Clark 4 2-3 10, Prescott Williams 1 2-3 4, Malik Wood 2 0-2 5, Tyler Vaughan 4 2-2 13, Taylor Filipek 0 1-2 1, Ngijol Songolo 2 0-0 6, Jordan Riewer 1 1-1 3, Aaron Lien 2 0-0 4, Urbane Bingham 1 0-0 3, Isaac Sevile 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 8-13 53.

Winona State 42 28 70

MSU Moorhead 29 24 53

3-point goals – WSU 4 (Taylor 2), MSUM 7 (Vaughan 3). Rebounds – WSU 32 (Blacklock 7), MSUM 31 (Clark, Lien 5). Assists – WSU 15 (Mongan 7), MSUM 9 (Clark, Vaughan 2). Turnovers – WSU 13, MSUM 15. Steals – WSU 3 (Mongan, Blacklock, Melcher 1), MSUM 7 (Clark 2). Blocks – WSU 4 (Bambenek 2), MSUM 5 (Clark, Filipek, Lien, Bingham, Sevlie 1). Personal Fouls – WSU 15, MSUM 16. Fouled out – none.