Alex Berg | Sports Editor | 1-23-2012
The Bemidji State men’s basketball team has placed itself in a tie for third place in the NSIC with a pair of home wins over Minnesota State and Southwest Minnesota last weekend.
“I think the top seven teams were playing each other this weekend,” junior guard Lance Rongstad said. “It causes a lot of separation, the teams that win are going to go up and the teams that lose will go down. It was definitely a big sweep for us and puts us in good position to get a home playoff game.”
The Beavers saw themselves down 23-13 midway through the first half on Friday night.
BSU battled back to cut the lead down to 34-29 at halftime.
Senior James Ellisor capped off a 6-0 run to start the second half with a huge dunk in transition.
“Dermaine Crockrell and I always tell each other that if we run the floor we can get some dunks,” Ellisor said. “Fortunately, I got a steal and we ran the wings together and he found me for the dunk.”
The Beavers continued their run to build a ten point lead with 9:16 left to play.
“It was huge because we had doubt,” Bowen said. “Going into the second half I was certainly frustrated and we knew we didn’t play our best in the first half. The first five minutes of a half are very vital, if they jump on us again, we will have even more doubt creep into our mind.”
The Beavers shot a startling 68 percent from the floor in the second half.
Just as the Mavericks were closing in on the Beaver lead, Lance Rongstad and Bryce Tesdahl hit back-to-back three-pointers to up the lead back up to eight points and BSU held on for a 75-67 win.
“I am very proud of them for overcoming the deficit,” Bemidji head coach Matt Bowen said. “I was very frustrated with the way we came out. It’s different playing when you’re at the upper half of the conference because people come after you.”
Ellisor led the charge by scoring 21 of his 34 points in the second half.
“It was just me being aggressive,” Ellisor said. “At the beginning of the game they were pressuring us quite a bit and it made it hard to run our offense. In the second half we were able to get some steals and run a bit more to get some easy baskets.”
The 34 points matched a career-high for Ellisor.
“He’s just a special athlete,” Bowen said of Ellisor. “He took 17 shots and made 13 of them and one of them was a missed dunk. It is phenomenal how efficient he is and how easy things come to him. What he is doing is very hard to do. He is the leading scorer in the league and teams are game-planning for him every single night. It’s certainly an honor to coach him and fun to watch him have nights like this.”
Saturday’s game started off slow again for the Beavers, but their defense gave them a 13-8 lead with 9:38 left in the first half.
The Mustangs rallied back to tie the score at 25 at halftime.
The Beavers uncharacteristically committed 12 turnovers in the first half.
“It was frustrating,” Bowen said. “But they did force Duluth into 29 turnovers last night.I knew that this would be a high-turnover game just because of the way that Southwest plays. But we only had six in the second half and took care of the ball down the stretch.”
Again, the Beavers offense picked up with a 21-10 run to start the second half.
“We just stuck it out and kept doing what we were doing,” Rongstad said. “We weren’t shooting well in the first half, but played good defense to keep them at a manageable number.”
A 3-pointer from Jordn Miller put SMSU within five with 3:04 remaining.
Junior Mason Walters and Ellisor sealed the victory with a pair of monster dunks in transition in the final minute of the game.
“That just says a lot about our seniority,” Rongstad said. “Last year I think we were in about about 12 or 13 games that were decided by five points or less. We definitely have the experience and the character to finish these games out.”
Ellisor led all scorers with 26 on 11-12 shooting.
BSU shot 64 percent in the second half.
“I’ve got these magic words at halftime called ‘relax’, Bowen joked. “Our defense held us in it at 25-25 and for us to score 45 points in the second half was huge. You can call timeouts and you can tell them what kind of defense Southwest is in, but once you go into halftime and sit and think about it is key.”
Bryce Tesdahl dished out ten assists to give him four consecutive games with at least seven assists.
The win was particularly big for the Beavers because both teams entered Saturday with an 8-4 conference record.
“I tell my kids that this win means no more than any other win because they all count,” Bemidji State head coach Matt Bowen said. “However, this one is big. When you play a team like Southwest that is fighting for the same playoff spot that we are, the win is a little more special. If there was such thing as a must-win in January, this is it.”
Bemidji State (13-5 9-4 NSIC) plays at University of Mary at 8 p.m. on Friday.