Northern Sun men open with an 8-0 sweep of southern rivals

8 of the 9 Minnesota men in the Northern Sun conference opened 2023-2024 play Friday night (November 10) down south against opponents from the Great American (GAC) and Mid-America (MIAA) conferences (teams from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma), and finished a good night’s work with 8 wins in those 8 games. We’re going to focus on the 5 games that were played in Pittsburg, Kansas, in the Central Region Challenge.

Game 1: Bemidji State 76 Henderson State (Arkansas/GAC) 63

Bemidji State pulled away from a 35-all tie late in the 1st half to a 75-55 lead late in the 2nd as 6-7 senior post John Sutherland (from Grand Rapids) scored 18 2nd half points for a total of 29 on the night. Henderson held Sutherland, who scored 20 ppg last year, in check through most of the 1st half, and outscored Bemidji 12-4 in the paint in the early going to take a 21-14 lead. But Johnny Tennyson (St. Michael-Albertville) filled the gap with 13 1st half points and 18 on the night. Henderson was 15-15 last year and lost its top 3 scorers, and so it was not expected to be a particularly tough opponent. Bemidji, meanwhile, has most of last year’s scoring back and was picked for 6th place among the 15 NSIC teams in the pre-season coaches’ poll. Bemidji shot just 10-of-32 from long range and scored just 10 2nd chance points on 10 offensive boards.

Game 2: Moorhead State 99 Missouri Southern 81

Missouri Southern looked like a tougher opponent than Henderson State after going 17-13 last year and returning 5 of its top 6 scorers. But, so, too, is Moorhead expected to be a little better than Bemidji at #4 in the pre-season coaches’ poll. And Moorhead proved to be an offensive powerhouse Friday night, hitting 35-of-67 FG (52%) and 11-of-22 3s. Junior guard Jacob Beeninga (Wayzata) led the way with 29 points on 5-of-8 2s and 4-of-7 3s. Junior Ja’Kair Sanchez (Syracuse, NY) came off the bench to scorte 20 on 4-of-5 3s while Dane Zimmer (Hopkins) added 15 points on 7-of-10 2s. Missouri Southern led 10-9 but Moorhead pulled out to a 45-33 halftime lead, then led 78-50 midway through the 2nd half.

Game 3: St. Cloud State 80 Pittsburgh State (Kansas) 73

This was expected to be a weaker matchup as the 2 teams went a combined 18-38 last year, and St. Cloud was picked to finish 14th out of the 15 NSIC teams in the coach’s poll. St. Cloud won in a grinder, leading 32-29 at the half and 62-47 at 8:39 of the 2nd. Pittsburg State roared back to within 65-60 with 5 minutes still to play, but the Huskies were able to hold on to the final buzzer. St. Cloud enjoyed a 16-6 edge in points in the paint in the 1st half while Pittsburg turned to tables in the 2nd with 30 points in the paint to just 10 for St. Cloud. But, the Huskies shot a healthy 18-of-30, mostly from the dreaded mid-range (they were just 3-of-8 from 3) in the 2nd half. 6-4 freshman guard Lucas Morgan (from Australia) came off the bench to score 25 points for the Huskies, while, guard Anish Ramlall, also a freshman (Rosemount) added 15 points. So the early word on the Huskies is that it’s a new era and that they will improve this year to the extent that Morgan and Ramlall can replicate their opening night performance though (again) it came against a so-so opponent.

Game 4: Minnesota State-Mankato 90 Southern Arkansas 70

Southern Arkansas, known as the Muleriders, was 22-10 last year but returns just one starter. Meanwhile, Minnesota State-Mankato (who will be referred to as Mankato or as the Mavericks) return Malik and Kyreese Willingham (Waseca) and are picked for #2 in the NSIC in the coaches’ poll. Malik scored 15 1st half points on 3-of-4 2s and 3-of-6 3s as Mankato ran out to a 50-33 halftime lead. It was a one-possession game at 30-27 at 5:34 but Mankato closed the half on a 20-6 run. Southern Arkansas came within 64-56 midway through the 2nd half but again the Mavs closed on a run, this time 26-14.

Malik fiished with 24 points, 9 boards and 3 assists; Kyreese with 13 points and 4 boards. Justin Eagins (Illinois) added 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists; and Brady Williams (Dover-Eyota) 12 points, 6 boards and 4 assists.

Game 5: Winona State 62 Arkansas-Monticello 46

Arkansas-Monticello was 11-17 last year but returns 5 of its top 7 players. Winona, meanwhile, was picked for 10th place out of 15 NSIC teams in the coaches’ poll. Winona led most of the way in a gringer–25-19 at the half and 62-46 at the final horn. Arkansas-Monti shot just 28% on the night while Winona shot a solid 23-for-44 (52%) to win despite losing the turnover battle 15-8 and the battle on the offensive boards 11-3. Thus Arkansas-Monti got off 58 FGA to Winona’s 44, and yet Winona made 7 more FG on the night. As expected, Winona was led by the Connors–Connor Dillon (Iowa) with 23 points, 5 boards and 6 assists; and Connor Drew (Illinois) with 19 points.

The Other Games

Southwest MN State 72 SE Oklahoma State 68 in the Missouri Western State Classic.

MN Crookston 62 East Central 56 in the GAC/NSIC Crossover, holding on after leading 38-20 at the half.

UMD 77 Oklahoma Baptist 71 also in the GAC/NSIC Crossover. Drew Blair scored 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting to become the Bulldogs all-time career scorer. UMD, picked at #1 in the NSIC pre-season coaches’ poll, came back from an early 21-11 deficit.

Top Performers

C- John Sutherland, Bemidji State, 6-7, sr. (Grand Rapids) 29 points, 13 rebounds

PF- Dane Zimmer, Minnesota State-Moorhead, 6-7, sr. (Hopkins) 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists

SF- Drew Blair, Minnesota-Duluth, 6-5, sr. (Wisconsin) 33 points

PG- Jacob Beeninga, Minnesota State-Moorhead, 6-0, jr. (Wayzata) 29 points, 6 assists

SG- Malik Willingham, Minnesota State-Mankato, 6-3, sr. (Waseca) 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists

6th Man- Lucas Morgan, St. Cloud State, 6-4, fr. (Australia) 25 points