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Beavers go toe-to-toe with unbeaten No. 2 MSU, fall in razor-thin OT matchup

Jan. 12—BEMIDJI — Any one play could have swung Bemidji State's matchup with No. 2 Minnesota State on Friday at the BSU Gymnasium.

The Beavers and Mavericks played to an 88-88 stalemate through 40 minutes, forcing them to dig in for another five. And in the extra session, Malik Willingham's layup with 22 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner.

Yet though BSU fell 94-92, they proved to themselves — and to the NSIC — that on any given night, they truly can play with any Division II team in the country. They nearly pulled off the upset Friday night.

"It was a close game against a top team," said junior forward John Sutherland, who led the Beavers with 42 minutes played and was second with 21 points. "It's always fun to play close games. Obviously, we wanted to (win), but we gave it all we had."

Bemidji State laid everything on the line, matching MSU score for score and refusing to let the Mavericks separate. The matchup was tied at halftime as well as at the end of regulation.

"It was a battle," said BSU head coach Mike Boschee. "It was a fun game to be in, I'm sure, for everybody. They're the No. 2 ranked team for a reason. We had them on the ropes, but we just couldn't seal the deal. We couldn't finish it."

The Beavers (9-6, 5-4 NSIC) led 86-80 with 1:05 left in regulation, but MSU responded with Dylan Peeters' layup that immediately cut the deficit to four. Sutherland then came open on a press break for the second consecutive possession and attempted a layup but missed.

There appeared to be clear contact to Sutherland's head on the play, but no foul call was made. Minnesota State (15-0, 9-0 NSIC) rebounded the miss and drove coast-to-coast to get within two on Elijah Hazekamp's layup.

The Beavers later missed the front end of a 1-and-1, opening the door for the Mavericks to tie the game with 25 seconds to go on a layup by Willingham.

"You can do a lot of really pretty things out there in a basketball game," Boschee said. "But you've got to make sure that you rebound the basketball really well. You defend with pride. And then obviously making the free throws at the end — you can't win unless you make your free throws at the end. We missed a bonus, which cost us two (points). Missed another single, which cost us one. And then there was a missed call that (was) really magnified at the end. All those things just added up."

Yet since Bemidji State came tantalizingly close to dealing the Mavericks their first loss of the season, there is a lot of confidence the Beavers can draw from Friday night's performance. Of course, that doesn't mean they're thrilled with the ultimate result.

"We played a pretty good game," said point guard BJ Davis, who led BSU with 22 points. "But because we lost, I can't say that was our best game of the year."

Though it is far from a certainty, Bemidji State could see the Mavericks again in the NSIC Tournament, or at least an opponent of similar quality. If the Beavers want to push for a conference title and potential NCAA Tournament berth like they did last year, they'll need many more performances like the one they delivered against MSU.

"It means everything, because now we know that we can play with every team in this league," Sutherland said. "We've just got to play to their level instead of playing down to the bad teams."

"We're right there," Davis added. "We've got to get this much better, work in practice, come to work every day. And by the end, we should be right where we need to be."

Minnesota State 94, Bemidji State 92 (OT)

MSU 42 46 6 — 94

BSU 42 46 4 — 92

BEMIDJI STATE — Davis 22, Sutherland 21, Olson 17, Pecarich 9, Albrecht 8, Tennyson 8, Dayley 5, Ijadimbola 2. Totals: 32-71 FGs, 11-32 3-pt. FGs, 17-22 FTs.

MINNESOTA STATE — M. Willingham 28, Eagins 16, K. Willingham 13, Hazekamp 12, Peeters 11, Williams 6, Braudis 4, Jones 4. Totals: 36-78 FGs, 8-29 3-pt. FGs, 14-20 FTs.