Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Northern Sun Update: St. Cloud Men Move on to D2 Final Four

D2 NCAA Tournament

The St. Cloud State men upset #3 rated Midwestern State of Texas today 92-88 as Taylor Witt scored 43 points for the Huskies. They'll play Thursday at 6 and, if victorious, then Saturday at 1 for the national championship.

St. Cloud led through most of the 1st half, but Midwestern broke from a 39-all tie at 2:20 to lead 45-39 at the half. The Huskies caught up at 51-51 on a steal by Witt and a fastbreak lay-up by Nate Phillips. After that they trailed for about a minute around the 13:30 mark, and for exactly 12 seconds at 78-76. Witt tied it up with a pair of FT and then gave St. Cloud the lead with a 3, a steal and a pair of FT, making it 85-80 at 1:18. He then made 8-for-8 more FT to close things out.

Witt made an NCAA D2 Elite Eight record 22-of-23 FT. Matt Schneck added 16 points and 13 boards for St. Cloud.

They'll play Indiana (Pa.) for a chance to advance to the national championship game.

Regional Finals

Two of Minnesota's NSIC teams made it to the finals of the D2 Central Regional tournament, the equivalent of the Sweet 16. Those would be the Concordia (St. Paul) women and the St. Cloud State men. The Huskies defeated NSIC rival Augustana 84-75 in OT to advance to the Elite Eight, but the Lady Bears took it on the chin from host Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, 73-64.

St. Cloud Men

The Augies took a quick 6-0 lead over St. Cloud, but the Huskies came back with a 14-2 run for a 14-8 lead. Augustana re-took the lead 28-26 on a Cody Schilling jumper at 0:35, and that's how it stood at the half. In the 2nd half Augustana led 7 times, St. Cloud 8 and there were 12 ties. Neither team led by more than 1 in the final 3:36 of regulation.

St. Cloud took the lead for the 8th and final time at 76-75 at 1:18 of OT on an Andrew Bernstetter 3. The Augies didn't score in the final 2:44 and the Huskies made 6-of-6 FT down the stretch.

Tournament MVP Matt Schneck paced St. Cloud, as usual, with 19 points and 19 boards. All-Tournament pick Josh Ortmann added 17 points, 4 assists and 3 steals. Bernstetter finished with 6 points, all in the OT, including 5 in a row with the Huskies trailing 75-71.

The Huskies advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1987, though it's the 5th straight year that the NSIC has been represented in the Elite Eight.

Concordia Women

The Bears took a 3-0 lead over Fort Lewis but then quickly fell behind 15-8 and 29-19. It was 32-23 at the half. The Bears came back strong in the 2nd half, however, taking the lead at 43-42. With 6:55 to go, they had a 53-47 lead. But after a Concordia timeout, things went south. The Bears failed to score on 4 straight possessions, missing a 2, a 3 and a 1, and then turning it over. The result was 9 straight Fort Lewis points, and Concordia suddenly trailed 58-53.

Now the Bears scored on 3 straight possessions--a steal and a 2 by Jamie Jones, 2 throws by Gillian Bjerke, and a 2 + 1 by Jones--to get back to 60-60. But again the Bears suffered an untimely drought, failing to score on 3 possessions, while Fort Lewis scored on all 3 for a 67-60 lead at 2:04. Concordia never got closer than 6.

Maurika Hickman scored 18 for the Bears, Jineen Williams added 15 and 8 boards and Jones 13 and 3 assists, but Williams and Jones also combined for 11 turnovers. Concordia concluded its season with a 26-6 record.


St. Cloud State continued to befuddle the Mankato State Mavericks in an 83-71 win in the semi-finals of the NCAA D2 Central Region at Mankato. For the past 2 seasons, the Mavs have claimed the NSIC regular season title. Both years, the Huskies knocked off the Mavs in the NSIC post-season tournament finals. And now this.

The Huskies used 2 10-point runs to secure the win. After trailing 10-4 early, St. Cloud got within 18-16, then scored 10 points on 4 consecutive possessions. Josh Ortmann hit consecutive buckets, a 2 and a 3 at 7:41 and 7:20, in the middle of the run.

Mankato finally caught up at 43-43 at 15:45 of the 2nd half, only to have the Huskies rip off another 10 points. This time it was Nate Phillips getting 2 of the buckets, a lay-up off a steal at 14:47 and a jumper at 12:37. Now it was 54-44 and Mankato never got closed than 3.

NSIC player of the year Matt Schneck led the Huskies with 21 points and 14 boards. Ortmann, Witt and Putz added 16, 15 and 13. Phillips added 4 steals, Putz 4 assists.

In the other men's semi, Augustana came back from a 6-point half-time deficit to beat Mesa State 95-84.

In one women's semi, Concordia (St. Paul) clobbered CSU-Pueblo 83-56 after taking a 35-12 lead with 5:51 left in the 1st half. Pueblo never got within 20, and the lead ballooned to 79-40 at 6:16. Jamie Jones scored 25 to lead the Bears, though posts Gillian Bjerke and Ashley Viehauser combined for 28 (14 apiece, Bjerke in the ridiculous period of just 6 minutes of play). Viehauser added 9 boards, while guard Maurika Hickman had 8 assists.

In the Central Region final, the Bears will play host Fort Lewis College, who hammered Augustana 79-52 in the other semi.

First Round

Minnesota's D2 teams won 3 games while losing 2 in the men's and women's NCAA tournament 1st round action.

On Friday, the #3 seeded Concordia (St. Paul) women hammered Adams State 97-59 while #5 Minnesota-Duluth was ousted from the tournament by Augustana 74-57.

On Saturday, the #1 Mankato and #4 St. Cloud men advanced, while #7 Winona lost to Mesa State 73-68. Mankato had to rally from behind to beat #8 Colorado School of Mines 84-80, while St. Cloud beat Metro State 82-77.

Heroes of 1st round action included Jineen Williams, who scored 32 points for Concordia, and NSIC Player of the Year Jheri Booker of UMD, who had 14 points and 7 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Jefferson Mason led the Mavericks with 19 points, 4 blocks and 2 steals, while also gathering in 9 boards. Matt Schneck had 21 points and 11 boards for the Huskies men, while Taylor Witt scored 22 points including 12-of-13 FT.

The feature of 1st round action would be Mankato's come-from-behind win. The Mavs took the early lead, and led by as much as 8 at 16-8. CSM stormed back to a 39-30 half-time lead, which they extended to 41-30 with the 1st bucket of the 2nd half. Mankato finally caught up at 63 at 6:24 on a pair of FT by Jesse Clark, then took the lead a minute later on a lay-up by Jermain Davis. It was 82-71 with just 27 ticks left on the clock, but CSM drained 3 3s including one at the final buzzer to make it a 4-point game in the end. Clark made 5-of-7 FT and Mason 2-for-2 in the final half-minute to protect the Mavs' lead.

Da Men

OK, maybe somebody out there can explain this one to me. The St. Cloud State men finished 2nd in the NSIC during the regular season at 16-4, while Augustana was 3rd at 15-5. The Huskies won the NSIC post-season tournament. So, now, going into the NCAA D2 tournament, St. Cloud is seeded 4th and Augustana 3rd.

But there's good news for Minnesota State-Mankato, which won the NSIC during the regular season but lost to #8 seed Southwest State in the 1st round of the conference tournament. The Mavericks got the #1 seed in the Central Region, and they'll host the 8-team get-together. The winner goes into the D2 Final Four. Here are the 3 Minnesota entrants, listed in order of their regional seed.

1. Mankato State 24-4, NSIC regular season champ
4. St. Cloud State 25-5, NSIC post-season champ
7. Winona State 20-9

And, again, Augustana (22-6) of the NSIC is the #3 seed.

Action will be on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday March 13-14-16, times TBD. Mankato State draws #8 Colorado School of Mines (17-11). St. Cloud State draws Metro State (24-6), and Winona State gets Mesa State (22-5).

In the March 2 poll, issued before the conference tournaments, Mankato State was rated #8 nationally, Augustana #15, Mesa State #23 and St. Cloud #24. Metro State was next among "the rest" who also received votes.

Winona State was without the NSIC's regular season scoring champion, David Johnson, in the post-season tournament. He played 1 minute in the final regular season game, a win over St. Cloud State, and has not played since. But what happened and when he might return has not been mentioned on the Warriors' Web site that I've been able to find.

Da Women

Unfortunately, the women will be travelling to the ends of the earth--well, OK, Durango, CO, which is pretty much the same thing--for their tournament. The host is Fort Lewis College (30-3). The Minnesota entries include:

3. Concordia (St. Paul) 24-5, NSIC regular season champ
5. Minnesota-Duluth 20-10, post-season runner-up

Wayne State (26-4), NSIC post-season champ, is #2, while Augustana (23-6) of the NSIC is also #4. Action is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Monday March 12-13-15, times TBD. Concordia will play #6 Adams State (21-7), while UMD draws Augustana. The Bulldogs beat the Augies 81-63 at Duluth in January, but Augustana returned the favor 80-69 in Sioux Falls in February.

In the final regular season poll, Fort Lewis was rated #4 and Concordia #19. Wayne State was #26 and figures to move into the top 25, while Adams and Augustana also received votes.

NSIC Finals

The higher seeded St. Cloud State men (#2) and Wayne State women (#3) claimed NSIC post-season championships today, as a wave of upsets in the tournament came to an end.

St. Cloud State trailed #8 seeded Southwest State only at 2-0, until 10:24 of the second when the Mustangs took a 45-43 lead on a layup by Scott Roehl. Neither team would lead by more than 3 the rest of the way. The Mustangs' largest lead was at 55-52 at 5:45 and 57-54 at 3:50. A Taylor Witt jumper brought the Huskies within 1 at 3:32, and neither team would lead by more than 1 thereafter. In fact, 12 consecutive scores either tied it up or gave one of them a 1 point lead. Finally, Roehl hit 2 FT at 0:07 to give Southwest a 1 point lead, but Witt returned the favor, making 2 game-winning FT at 0:02. Witt scored 18 for the Huskies, while Matt Schneck added 16 and 14 rebounds and adds the post-season MVP to his regular season Player of the Year honors. It was the 2nd straight NSIC post-season championship for the Huskies.

Among the women, Wayne beat Minnesota-Duluth 77-67. NSIC player of the year Jheri Booker led UMD with 26 points and 11 boards, while Wayne star Ashley Arlen (23 points) had lots of help from Mahtomedi, MN, native Mara Hjelle. Hjelle matched Booker with 26 points and 11 boards, and took tournament MVP honors. Wayne took the lead at 7-6 and never trailed again. The half-time score was 40-35. The margin reached double figures at 51-41, and the largest Wayne lead was at 58-41.

NSIC Semi-Finals

The upsets just keep on coming, and this time the women joined in the fun. #4 seed Minnesota-Duluth surprised #1 seed Concordia (St. Paul) on the Bears home floor, 80-73 to advance to the women's post-season final, where they will meet #3 Wayne State, who blew away #2 Augustana 75-60.

UMD took the lead over Concordia at 12-10, and continued to lead through the heart of the 1st half. The Bears came back to lead 34-29 at the half. But, the Bulldogs dominated the 2nd half, taking their 1st lead at 41-40 and increasing it to 12 points on 4 different occasions. NSIC player of the year Jheri Booker led the Bulldogs with 21 points and 12 boards, including 9 of UMD's 1st 12 points of the 2nd half as they erased the 5 point half-time deficit to take the lead for good at 43-42. Gillian Bjerke led Concordia with 12 points and 17 boards.

Ashley Arlen and Mara Hjelle led Wayne to their win with a combined 40 p0ints, 19 boards and 6 assists. Hjelle is a graduate of Mahtomedi High School.

On the men's side, it was #8 Southwest State getting another upset, this time over #4 seed Winona State 81-67. #2 St. Cloud State defeated #6 Wayne State 74-66 in the other semi.

St. Cloud led Wayne most of the way, but Wayne caught up and took 2 short-lived leads at 4:15 and 2:48 of the 2nd half. But a Taylor Witt 3 from Brett Putz gave the Huskies the lead for good. Witt finished with 21 points.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs took the lead for good at 12-11, and led Winona State by as many as 15 points in the 1st half. The Warriors got within 5 in the 2nd, but no closer. Southwest was led by Kevin Andrews with 21 points, while Ben Fisher scored 24 for Winona.

First Round NSIC Tournament

Eight first round games were played last night (Wednesday, March 3). Six went according to Hoyle but there were two major upsets, both on the men's side of the equation.

#8 seed Southwest State shocked #1 seed and nationally #8 rated Minnesota State-Mankato 80-78 as Jordan Miller scored the go-ahead bucket for the Mustangs with 37 seconds remaining. Southwest had led only at 25-24 though the game had been tied on several occasions, most recently at 60-all at 9:28. But Southwest scored the final 6 points of the game. Scott Roehl, from Princeton, MN, led the Mustangs with 22 points and 8 boards.

As a result, the men's semis and finals now will be held at #2 seed St. Cloud State. The Huskies hammered Concordia (St. Paul) 76-61 as Matt Schneck had 24 points and 14 boards. The Huskies will play #6 seed Wayne State, who upset #3 Augustana (hammered 'em!) 75-52. Southwest will take on #4 Winona State, who avoided the upset against Mary, 76-57.

There were no upsets among the women, and so the top 4 seeds will playoff over the weekend at Concordia (St. Paul). The host Bears defeated #8 seed but defending national champions Minnesota State-Mankato 81-74, and will meet #4 seed Minnesota-Duluth, who defeated Winona State 63-51. #2 Augustana beat Northern State 67-55 and will meet #3 Wayne State, who defeated Minnesota-Moorhead 77-70. Ashley Arlen of Wayne was the high women's scorer across the 4 games with 28 points.

Still, the feature game was the Mankato at Concordia tilt. After the lead changed hands several times early, the Bears took the lead at 23-21 and held it through 40-39 at half-time. The Mavericks scored the 1st points of the 2nd half, however, and led by as many as 6 at 53-47. Concordia regained the lead at 64-63 at 11:01 and never again trailed by more than 2, though the game was tied another 4 times as well. The final 7 point margin was the Bears' largest of the 2nd half. Gillian Bjerke of Concordia led all scorers with 20 points.

Post-Season Awards

The all-conference teams include 7 of my top 10 players, and the experts agreed with both of my Player of the Year picks--Jheri Booker of UMD, and Matt Schneck of St. Cloud State. The others on both lists include:

Women: Ashley Arlen, Wayne State; Allison Nash-Gerlach, Moorhead State
Men: Jefferson Mason and Travis Nelson, Mankato State; and Anthony Moody, Mary

The experts agreed with my coach of the year choice among the men--Matt Margenthaler, Mankato--but not among the women, where Chris Kielsmeier of Wayne beat out Annette Wiles of UMD.

Augustana and Mary have two all-conference men coming back next year, while among the women Augustana, Concordia and Wayne State have two all-conference selections returning next year. The early favorites for PoY next year are Ashley Arlen, Wayne; and Anthony Moody, Mary.

Regular Season Wrap

The Northern Sun Conference closed out regular season play Saturday night, February 27, with 5 teams still in contention for a share of the men's (2) and women's (3) championships.

Among the men, Mankato State won at Mary 75-63 to claim its share. But St. Cloud State lost 80-69 at Winona State to drop a game behind in 2nd place. Jefferson Mason led the Marauders with 17 points and 13 boards, while Taylor Witt led the Crusaders with 23 points and 8 boards.

Among the women, Concordia won 67-55 with a singularly uninspired performance at winless Upper Iowa to take sole possession of 1st place. The 2nd place teams, Augustana and Wayne State, were both victorious but, with the Bears winning, they stayed in 2nd place, 1 game shy of a share of the title.

The final standings, thus, are set, along with play-off match-ups. The 1st round for both men and women is Wednesday night, March 3, on the home court of the higher seed.


8 Southwest State (10-10 NSIC) at 1 Mankato State (17-3)
5 Mary (11-9) at 4 Winona State (13-7)
7 Concordia (10-10) at 2 St. Cloud State (16-4)
6 Wayne State (10-10) at 3 Augustana (15-5)


8 Southwest State (9-11) at 1 Concordia (17-3)
5 Winona State (12-8) at 4 Minnesota-Duluth (13-7)
7 Northern (11-9) at 2 Augustana (16-4)
6 Moorhead State (12-8) at 3 Wayne State (16-4)

The place to be on Wednesday would be Augustana, I guess, it being the one place where you can see a 1st round doubleheader. The women play at 6 and the men at 8. What fun! Everything else is at 7 p.m.

I haven't seen enough of the NSIC to know who is vulnerable and what the upset specials are, so I'll just fall back on the #4 vs. #5 games. The Winona women always look like world-beaters when I see them, but by the time I see them again they've lost a couple games they should have won. Which of the Warriors dual personalities will show up in Duluth on Wednesday? And the Winona men get a deceptively difficult match-up with Mary, featuring conference Player of the Year candidate Anthony Moody. As it turns out, those are the only 2 match-ups in which the lower seed has defeated the higher seed this year--Mary and the Winona men split 2 games, while the Winona women beat UMD by 4 at Winona.

The semi-finals and finals will be next Saturday and Sunday, March 6 and 7, at the highest remaining seed. That means the men will play in Mankato and the women in St. Paul. But I'll go out on a limb and pick 2nd seed St. Cloud (men) and 3rd seed Wayne (women) to win the 2 tournaments.


To recap, David Johnson of Hayfield and Winona State won the men's individual scoring championship with 19.1 ppg, while Jheri Booker of UMD won the women's at 20.9. Booker also led in steals with 3.3, and gets my nod as women's Player of the Year. Ashley Arlen of Wayne, Alison Nash-Gerlach of Moorhead, Jamie Zelinsky of Crookston and Megan Stadler of Southwest State round out the top 5. You could probably pick 5 Concordia women for the 2nd team. The Bears had 7 women score between 10 and 12 ppg.

Among the men, Matt Schneck of St. Cloud scored 18 ppg and led the NSIC in rebounding at 10.5, and is my pick as the men's Player of the Year. Moody, with 18.4 ppg, is my 2nd pick, and my all-conference 5 would also include Mason and Travis Nelson of Mankato, and Dalton Jordan of Augustana. Johnson heads the 2nd 5.

Coaches of the Year are Matt Marganthaler of the Mankato men, and Annette Wiles of the UMD women.

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