Minot State women shut down Winona State 76-50

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Holly Johnson puts up a shot during a women's college basketball game Friday at the MSU Dome in Minot.

Minot State women’s basketball coach Mark Graupe didn’t get much sleep Thursday night.

The first-year head coach was too nervous about the implications of Friday’s matchup with Winona State at the MSU Dome. With a win, the Beavers could move to within a game and a half of Minnesota Duluth for fourth place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division. A loss would make the team’s chances of reaching their preseason goal of hosting a playoff game grim.

“I can tell how big of a game it is when I don’t sleep at night and I was almost throwing up in the morning,” Graupe said. “This was by far the most nervous I’ve been all year long. Just based on the importance of the game and how good the opponent was.”

MSU responded with what Graupe called its best win of the season, a 76-50 victory over the 13-6 Warriors. Winona State couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, getting outscored 38-17 after halftime and 18-3 in the third quarter. The victory was the Beavers’ fourth in a row and brought them a game closer of catching Duluth after the Bulldogs fell to Northern State Friday.

“I think that our confidence is obviously the highest it’s been all season,” MSU senior forward Holly Johnson said. “Really everybody has taken their time getting used to coach Graupe’s new system, and he’s finally figuring us out and we’re figuring him out. We’re getting into a groove at the right time.”

Meanwhile, Winona State suffered its fifth straight loss, and its third straight defeat by 20 points or more.

The Beavers raced out to a 10-7 lead at the first media timeout because of 10-3 rebound advantage, then closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run to take a 23-12 after one.

Johnson and junior guard Kari Clements each converted a 3-pointer and a jumper for five points in the 10-0 run.

Winona State’s Allie Pickrain single handedly kept the Warriors in the game with a 20-point performance in the first half on a 7 of 11 shooting effort (6-10 from long range). Despite the hot shooting from Pickrain, MSU led 38-33 at halftime.

MSU was a completely different defensive team in the second half, holding Pickrain scoreless out of the break.

“We started to switch on her more, so it wasn’t just me guarding her,” Clements said. “We kind of got out on her and she started to get tired. We just kept getting after her and shut her down.”

The Beavers opened the second half on a 18-0 run, building an 56-33 lead and not allowing Winona State to score until there were 40 seconds left in the third quarter.

“Pickrain really got going on us and our original plan was to not switch on her,” Graupe said. “And then we made the adjustment to switch everything except for the five spot. We were going to force someone else to go off, because we were going to faceguard her and not let her beat us.”

Johnson led the Beavers with a double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Clements scored 14 points and made 4 of 8 3-pointers, while Mariah Payne chipped in 13 points and Diondra Denton scored 10. The Beavers shot 47.5 percent from the floor, converted 10 of 34 shots from 3-point range and outrebounded Winona 44-26.

Pickrain had a team-high 20 points for the Warriors (13-6, 9-6 NSIC), but no other WSU player reached double digits. Winona State shot 33.3 percent from the floor and made 7 of 22 3-pointers.

MSU (10-9, 7-8) is back in action at 4 p.m. today against Upper Iowa at the MSU Dome.

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