Beavers' 3-game winning streak snapped as SMSU surges in 2nd half

Feb. 17—BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State men's basketball team needs every win it can get this time of year.

So it was disappointing to the Beavers when they couldn't close out their second consecutive perfect weekend with a win against Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday at the BSU Gymnasium. BSU was tied 30-30 with SMSU at the half, but the Mustangs broke free with a 13-2 start to the second half.

The Beavers reigned in SMSU down the stretch, but the double-digit deficit was too much to overcome in a 63-56 defeat.

"We talked a lot about the physicality of Southwest State," said BSU head coach Mike Boschee. "Half their team looks like football players out there in some respect. And to be honest, I don't think we were able to match that physicality. Inside, we weren't very good. Maybe like 8-28 or something from inside. The 3-point line, we weren't very good there. We made some free throws tonight, 11-11, but if we can't finish inside, that's our strength."

SMSU (16-10, 13-7 NSIC) reached its zenith with 8:40 to go in the game, leading 54-42 largely on the strength of its big second-half run. The Beavers (13-13, 9-11 NSIC) clawed back to within six on John Sutherland's layup with 6:04 remaining, but they never got closer the rest of the way.

"I'm actually surprised it was a good basketball game for as long as it was," Boschee said. "We've just got to be a more physical team, and especially against a team like these guys tonight. (If we) finished plays a little bit stronger, we could have had a different result. But it's still a learning experience."

At this point in the season, Bemidji State is laser-focused on improving its playoff positioning as much as possible. The Beavers remain in eighth place in the NSIC thanks to Sioux Falls' 70-68 loss at St. Cloud State on Saturday night.

BSU has two games remaining this season next Friday and Saturday at Winona State and Minnesota State. Sioux Falls will host Minnesota State on Friday and Minot State on Saturday.

Bemidji State can guarantee itself a home playoff game with a weekend sweep, so the Beavers will be focused on what they can improve upon from this weekend.

"Winona will be physical, Mankato is dynamite," Boschee said. "We've got two more opportunities here to see if we can't play some really good basketball."

Boschee noted that BSU must clean up its turnovers, which provided the Mustangs with a glaring advantage throughout the game. Bemidji State gave the ball away 13 times, while SMSU coughed up only five turnovers. Southwest scored 22 points off BSU's giveaways, while the Beavers managed just two.

"It seemed like every time we turned it over, they just ran it down our throat or got an open look and made things happen, and that's how they play," Boschee said. "So our turnovers in combination with poor shooting and poor finishing inside really, really made it hard on us tonight."

The Beavers have increasingly relied upon a tighter rotation down the stretch of the season. They played only seven players on Saturday, five of whom played at least 32 minutes. Four starters played at least 36 minutes, including point guard BJ Davis, who played all 40.

If BSU wants to make noise in the season's final week, it's likely going to come down to how much the Beavers' starting five can handle.

"If this stuff was easy, everybody would be good," Boschee said. "It's just not the case. This stuff is hard, and you have to embrace that. Embrace the process of doing whatever you can to become the best player you can be and become the best team you can be. So we'll stick with that process, and hopefully our guys will respond next weekend."

Southwest Minnesota State 63, Bemidji State 56

SMSU 30 33 — 63

BSU 30 26 — 56

BEMIDJI STATE — Williams 17, Sutherland 12, Albrecht 10, Davis 8, Tennyson 5, Olson 4. Totals: 19-58 FGs, 7-28 3-pt. FGs, 11-11 FTs.

SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA STATE — Phipps 21, Omot 10, Stevens 10, Braaten 7, Cofield 6, Luedtke 5, Shaw 4. Totals: 25-56 FGs, 7-21 3-pt. FGs, 6-9 FTs.