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Dragons push toward playoffs

The Dragon men and women looked to raise their playoff positioning and even win a conference championship when they took the court Friday night.  But bad luck and momentum carried into Saturday’s games as the men lost a second straight game to solidify their place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference playoff tournament.

MELISSA STEPHAN - stephanme@mnstate.edu

Women’s coach Karla Nelson was faced with a tough challenge in the final weekend. Not only would her team face the top two teams in the conference, the Dragons faced two teams in the top 25 of the country. The Augustana Vikings, ranked No. 25 in the Division II USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, traveled from Sioux Falls, S.D.  and the Wayne State Wildcats, No. 3 in the country, traveled more than 350 miles from Wayne, Neb.

Offensive production, or lack thereof, led to a low scoring first half.

“I thought both teams looked tired,” coach Karla Nelson  said. “I’m not sure why. Had we played better, this was probably the night to get them.”

The women led by seven with just over 10 minutes to play in the first, but this would be the biggest lead of the night.  A 16-6 run from the Vikings gave them the lead.

The Dragons opened the second half strong, but again could not take control.  Another big run, 16-3, from the Vikings gave them a 10 point lead they would never lose. The game ended 67-57.

“Now we have the aggression built up,” sophomore forward Megan Strese said. “We’ll just have to take it to (Wayne State). We can’t have the defensive breakdowns we had tonight.”

The aggression did in fact come out early when the Dragons took on the Wildcats.  Three-pointers and tough defense led to MSUM holding a solid lead in the first half.  Angie Jetvig dished the ball to Haley Thomforde for a 3-pointer to give the home team a 23-9 lead with just over seven minutes to play in the first half.

Slowly WSC chipped away at that lead and with 11 minutes left in the game, they took their first lead of the night.  The two teams traded baskets throughout the remainder of the game.  The Dragons shot 14-of-18 from the free-throw line but missed a 3-pointer late in the game. Converted free-throws from the Wildcats forced the Dragons to shoot from behind the arc with no luck.  The visiting team would hold their No. 3 ranking by defeating the Dragons, 77-73.

“Within our league, it is all timing. When do you play somebody? How are you playing somebody? And how are they playing?” said coach Nelson on the competition of the NSIC.

Men slip before playoffs

While the Dragons women traveled to Augustana for the first round of playoffs, the Dragons men hosted Augustana on Wednesday, when postseason action tipped off. This scenario was one that seemed unlikely as the Dragons, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, were tied for second in the conference coming into last weekend’s games. MSUM had previously only lost one game at home, to the No. 13 ranked Winona State Warriors, before falling to both Augustana and Wayne State.

Augustana came to Nemzek last weekend looking to move as high as No. 5 in the final NSIC standings. Action favored the Dragons early as Charlie Chapman twice gave them a four point lead off 3-pointers.  The Vikings were able to hold the Dragons to 10 points in the final 12 minutes of first half action compared to their 30.

“For whatever reason we seemed out-of-sorts and we couldn’t get back in a groove,” coach Chad Walthall said. “It was one of those things that snowballed on us and got out of hand.”

Augie made almost every shot that went up. They built a game-high lead of 26 points with eight minutes to play in the game.  The Dragons made mostly 3-pointers the rest of the way but they weren’t enough to dig them out of the 26-point hole.

“They came out with a lot of firepower and made some shots in the first half,” said Chapman. “We had our chances in the second half, but they stayed hot, and we weren’t locking down on defense. We weren’t hitting shots that we normally do, and it got away from us.”

Fifteen turnovers plagued MSUM in the first half alone in Saturday’s game. The high turnover margin led to 19 points off of turnovers for Wayne State and a 31-16 lead going into halftime.

The Dragons sloppy play carried over into the second half as turnovers again allowed the Wildcats to hold their solid lead. An 18-4 run brought the Dragons deficit down to below 10 with five minutes to play. Back-and-forth scoring denied MSUM from getting back into the game as the Wildcats earned a playoff spot of their own with the 64-50 win.

BY COLLIN BOYLES
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