MSU basketball notebook: Murken proud of defensive effort, Johnson shines in MSU debut

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Brandon Green (3) takes a jump shot during an exhibition game earlier this season.

Minot State men’s basketball is 2-0 for the first time since the 2013-2014 season, which isn’t going to draw complaints from coach Matt Murken.

But the two wins isn’t the biggest takeaway from the season opening weekend for the sixth-year head coach. Instead, Murken was impressed with the Beavers’ defensive effort, an area they struggled greatly with a season ago, as they gave up 77.2 points per game.

MSU held Southern Arkansas to 42.9 percent shooting in a 84-70 victory Friday, then limited Henderson State to 40.4 percent in a convincing 78-50 win Saturday.

For full disclosure, this is the same Henderson State team that just beat last season’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular season champion Minnesota State Moorhead 93-80 on Friday. MSU has already topped last year’s season low allowed in points, which was a 93-57 win over Mayville State on Nov. 20. If the Beavers can hold opponents to an average of 60 points per game all season long, Murken will take it.

“We’ve really made an emphasis on the defensive side on the court the last six months,” Murken said. “I don’t think we guarded well enough last year to win consistently. You can judge how you’re playing by how well you’re guarding. Some players think you judge based how you’re shooting and we’re trying to get away from that.”

Murken highlighted the defensive effort of senior guard Brandon Green in particular.

“He really led the way for us on that end. We put him on both team’s top two guards and he held them to around 30 percent,” Murken said.

The Beavers host Mayville State at 7 p.m. tonight at the MSU Dome in their home opener. The matchup marks the first of seven straight home games for MSU.

“It’s nice to be home for the next few weeks,” Murken said. “In general, you don’t lose that day of practice on the way out somewhere or on the way back. You can focus on getting better without the distraction of traveling.”

MSU women hoping to build early confidence

Considering the team won four games last year, Minot State women’s basketball is relishing any victories it can this season.

And there was plenty to like in the Beavers’ season opening 79-53 victory over NAIA Rocky Mountain College Friday at the MSU Dome.

First, MSU’s defense suffocated Rocky Mountain and held it to 25.8 percent shooting.

“We had a good practice (Sunday after the game), you could tell everyone had a bounce in their step,” MSU coach Mark Graupe said. “Starting the conference schedule (in a few weeks), U-Mary is ranked pretty highly, then it doesn’t get any easier with Northern State and Moorhead. Those are going to be nasty games to start, so we need to have confidence going into those.”

Second, Minot native Holly Johnson had a big performance in her first game with MSU. Johnson scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for a double-double. With forward Haley Hildenbrand presumably out for the season with an injury, MSU is going to need Johnson to fill a big role in the post.

“We did change our offense from a two-post offense and tried to get Holly some touches at the free throw line. We’re trying to get her in spots where we can utilize her,” Graupe said. “Obviously, she’s great from the perimeter, but she’s also got a deadly 15-footer.”

The Beavers are back in action at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against Dickinson State at the MSU Dome.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.