Minot State University men's basketball coach Matt Murken saw plenty to like from his team this past weekend, particularly during the second half of an overtime loss to St. Cloud State on Saturday.
Now he'd like to see his players rewarded with victories.
The Beavers (6-10 overall, 2-10 Northern Sun), losers of six straight and 10 of 11, certainly need the morale boost.
Minot State University freshman Nate Mertens tries to avoid a trap against Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 17 at the MSU Dome.
"I feel like we did take some steps forward this weekend, but it would be nice to see that pay off in the form of some wins," Murken said. "Being at home again, hopefully we can play with that same type of urgency that we had that last 20 minutes against St. Cloud and find a way to get a victory."
MSU will have a pretty good opportunity to snap its skid tonight against Minnesota Crookston (4-12, 1-11), the owners of the conference's longest losing streak at 10 games.
Leading scorer Ashton Harrell was sidelined with an injury 10 games into the season, leaving 6-foot-6 forwards Brandon Burns (10.8 points per game) and Tyler West (8.8 ppg) to pick up the slack. The Golden Eagles haven't recovered and own a league-worst scoring margin of minus-15.1 points per game.
One of the silver linings of the Beavers' recent struggles is more players are getting opportunities to play extended minutes.
Junior center Lazar Boskovic earned his first start of the season against SCSU and notched 13 points, one off his career high. Freshman guard Nate Mertens has transformed from a seldom-used reserve into a reliable role player capable of a couple big plays per night.
"Throughout the course of the season, different guys are gonna get different opportunities," Murken said. "It's really up to them when they have those opportunities to kind of prove they belong out there and I think Lazar and Nate have been doing that recently. Whether they get short minutes or long minutes, they've been making enough plays where it's getting tough to take them off the court and that's a good thing."
After taking on Crookston in a game in which they'll be favored, the Beavers face a much more difficult challenge Saturday in Bemidji State (12-4, 9-4), which holds the best record among NSIC North Division teams.
"Bemidji's a really physical team," MSU junior Adam Randall said. "They set a lot of good picks and their big guys can shoot it so we gotta get out there and contest them."
BSU also boasts the league's top scorer, 6-4 junior guard Brock Lutes (19.4 ppg).
"He's really just an all-around player - a big, strong guard," Murken said. "He can shoot it, can drive it, can post up a little bit. ... He's kind of a tough matchup because he is bigger and stronger and he can take you outside."
But before the Beavers concern themselves with Bemidji State, they're focused on breaking their losing streak against Crookston.
"We're pretty desperate to get a win," Randall said, "so we can't let this one slip on us."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.