Alex Berg | Sports Editor | 2-29-2012
Senior guard Bryce Tesdahl lifted the Bemidji State men’s basketball team over Wayne State in the first round of the NSIC conference tournament in the team’s 57-53 victory.
Down by one point with 30 seconds left to play, senior guard Bryce Tesdahl caught the ball at the top of the three-point arc and released what would be his last shot at the BSU Gym. As the shot sunk through the bottom of the net the season-high crowd of 2,279 exploded into cheer.
“I was just praying I made it,” Tesdahl said. “I couldn’t buy a basket before that shot. For the last shot here in my career to be that big, it really means a lot.”
A layup from senior forward James Ellisor gave the Beavers an early 6-2 lead.
With just under ten minutes left in the first half, BSU became the first to strike double digits thanks to jumpers from guards Jake Schalow and Dermaine Crockrell that increased the lead to 12-4.
Crockrell finished with a dozen points with a pair of three-pointers.
“I thought they had a great game plan coming in,” Tesdahl said. “They took away James and they really came in ready to play. We knew it was not going to be easy and the lack of scoring showed that.”
Ellisor just got two shots on two attempts in the first half.
“When a guy goes for 30 points three games in a row somebody is going to do something to try and stop him,” Bemijdi State head coach Matt Bowen said. “I don’t think we adjusted quick enough to put the game out of reach.”
Six minutes later, the Wildcats would finally hit double digits after a three-pointer from Ryan Rolfzen to make the score 16-11 with 3:21 remaining in the half.
Both team’s shot under 50 percent in the first half — BSU at 43 percent and WSC at 25 percent — and the Beavers led 21-15 at the break.
“Defense is what it takes to win games and win championships,” Tesdahl said. “If we aren’t clicking offensively, which doesn’t happen very often, we need to be ready to play good defense in order to win.”
After a free throw from junior forward Mason Walters, Ellisor pulled down the rebound on the miss that followed and finished with a layup to give BSU a 29-21 lead with 15:25 left to play.
Back-to-back baskets from junior guard Lance Rongstad gave the Beavers its largest lead since the first half at 33-23 with 13:04 remaining.
Rongstad finished the game with a dozen points on 5-8 shooting and a game-high nine rebounds.
The Wildcats would answer quickly to cut the lead back down to four following a three-pointer from Ayron Worthington with 11:26 left in the game.
WSC finished the game knocking down six three-pointers on 14 tries.
With just under six minutes left to play the Beavers got baskets inside from Walters and Rongstad to extend the lead to 47-39.
Wayne State answered with a 12-3 run to take its first lead since 2-0 at 51-50 with 59 seconds left to play.
Tesdahl answered by calmly knocking down the long distance jumper to re-take the lead at 53-51.He would then pull down the rebound on Vontrell Seroyer’s miss and throw an outlet pass to a streaking Ellisor who finished with a flush on the other end to seal the victory.
“I was really happy for Bryce,” Bowen said. “I don’t think there was a doubt in his mind that he was going to step up and score, he is a confident kid.”
Ellisor — who entered the game as the leading scorer in the conference and third in the country with 22.5 points per game — finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-9 shooting.
“They did a really good job denying me the ball,” Ellisor said. “It is always good to see everyone else step up like they did tonight.”
With the win, the Beavers finished the season with an impressive mark of 13-2 at home.
“It’s been great,” Ellisor said of playing at home. “I cannot say enough about the crowd. The fan support was amazing. It is something I will always cherish. I loved it.”
Tesdahl, a fellow senior who played his final home game had similar feelings. “It feels good,” Tesdahl said. “I remember my first game like it was yesterday, I scored two points and we lost by one. To win a game that we would have lost in the previous three years in front of such a great crowd feels good.”
Bemidji State (22-7 16-6 NSIC) advances to the NSIC tournament semifinal to play MSU-Moorhead at 2:30 on Saturday in Rochester.
“We just have to go out and play Beaver basketball,” Tesdahl said. “Hopefully we score a little more than 57 points, but being down in Rochester will be a new experience, we’ll take it. It will be fun.”
With a win, BSU would play the winner of Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State for the conference tournament championship 4:30 on Sunday.