MSU men make late surge, improve to 12-1

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Luis Ricci Maia (11) puts up a layup during a men's college basketball game Saturday at the MSU Dome.

Sometimes, stories just write themselves.

The Minot State men’s basketball team fell into a large deficit early, was beaten on the boards, went 4-of-12 on free throws and trailed for more than 37 straight minutes in Saturday’s game against St. Cloud State at the MSU Dome.

Yet, the Beavers somehow found a way to win anyway, 82-80.

MSU coach Matt Murken has preached finding a way to handle adversity to his team so much over the past few months it’s probably gotten a little over the top.

But after Saturday, it’s pretty clear why he keeps beating those same drums. The Beavers’ historical start to the season continues to stay alive because the year-long message certainly didn’t fall on deaf ears Saturday in MSU’s most dire moments.

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics MSU's Tyler Rudolph (24) scores during a college basketball game Saturday.

The final 4 minutes were a testament to the Beavers’ resiliency they’ve shown time-and-time again in the team’s 12-1 start, even if some of the adversity faced was self-induced.

With MSU trailing 70-67 with 4:12 remaining, St. Cloud State forward Jon Averkamp converted a hook shot, drawing a foul in the process. Murken, irate with the officials after the call, was called for a technical foul. A five-point deficit quickly turned to seven and second place in the north division was slowly slipping away.

Unfazed, the Beavers picked up their coach.

“I brought our guys together and told coach ‘We’re good,'” MSU senior forward Tyler Rudolph said. “I told him we were going to get stops and make some plays down the stretch. We were able to do that.”

The Beavers responded with a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the game with just more than 2 minutes left in the game.

“I probably put us in a bad spot there,” Murken said. “I didn’t like some of the things that were going on, but I thought they responded to adversity really well. They’ve been great at that all year. They really picked me up. We always talk about trying to cover up guys’ mistakes and we had five guys out there covering my mistake. They were tough enough to get a victory tonight when we played ugly, that’s not an easy thing to do.”

The end of the game nearly spelled disaster for the Beavers. Inbounding the ball leading 82-80, normally steady point guard Luis Ricci Maia couldn’t keep control of the ball and gave SCSU a chance to tie or win with 13 seconds left. SCSU put the ball in its best playmaker’s hands, star shooting guard Gage Davis. But MSU senior guard Brandon Green played perfect defense on a contested 3-pointer, allowing the shot to harmlessly clank off the rim into Rudolph’s arms. Rudolph was instantly fouled.

Green’s defensive performance could have been what guided the Beavers to victory, as he held Davis, a first-team All-NSIC selection last season, to 1 of 10 shooting in the second half and 5-of-19 overall. He also shut down Davis twice in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.

“That was an unbelievable effort,” Murken said. “He was really good on that end of the court. One of the biggest stories of our season has been Brandon’s ability to accept the role of defensive stopper. Really, we judge his game on how he guards the other team’s best player. That’s been a huge key for us all year and it certainly was in the second half.”

With 3.3 seconds remaining and an 86 percent free throw shooter at the line, the MSU faithful thought the game was won. Yet, Rudolph couldn’t convert either free throw, giving the Huskies a final attempt at a win. But, Brindley Theisen’s game-winning shot attempt didn’t go, letting the Beavers escape with a win.

“This is potentially the best team we’ve beaten all year,” Murken said. “It’s a game we were able to sneak out despite not playing our best basketball and stealing a victory. But every win counts at the end of the year, and the better a team is you beat, the better it looks on your resume.”

It wasn’t a pretty start for the Beavers, falling behind 12 points early and playing subpar basketball for the first 14 minutes. But the Beavers salvaged the final six minutes, entering halftime trailing by four, 37-33.

“I thought we were flat early and they completely outplayed us,” Murken said. “We made a lot of mistakes the first 14 minutes but made a nice little run at the end of the first half and put ourselves in position to win.”

Rudolph had a game-high 27 points and grabbed six rebounds and also moved into third place on the Beavers’ all-time scoring list (1,656 career points), passing Rick Hedberg (1,652).

David Akibo recorded 15 points and five rebounds in the win, while Ricci Maia finished with a career-high 23 points on a 10-of-12 shooting performance with 12 assists for a double-double, his fourth of the year. The 12 assists for Ricci Maia tied a career-high.

MSU shot 58.9 percent from the floor and made 12 of 17 3-pointers.

“We got together and really fought for the last five minutes of the game,” Ricci Maia said. “Good teams find a way to win even when things don’t go your way. Of course, we’re going to work on fixing some things because we can’t have those mistakes again, but it’s going to happen, so we need to know how to handle that adversity.”

Averkamp had 21 points for SCSU (9-4, 4-2 NSIC), while Davis finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double. The Huskies shot 49.2 percent from the floor and 3-of-16 beyond the arc, while outrebounding the Beavers 37-25.

MSU (12-1, 6-1) is back in action at 4 p.m. today against Minnesota Duluth at the MSU Dome.

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