MSU women’s season ends in heartbreaker to Winona State

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Maddie Wald (3) puts up a shot during a women's college basketball game Wednesday at the MSU Dome.

A pleasantly surprising season ended in disappointing fashion Wednesday for the Minot State women’s basketball team.

Despite a rally to take the lead late in the game, the Beavers allowed an 8-0 run to Winona State in the final 2 minutes of regulation in a 66-60 defeat in the first round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament at the MSU Dome. The Beavers end their season 14-13 overall.

While the loss stings in the interim, it would be hard to consider this season anything but a success after MSU finished in the top half of the conference after being picked last in the NSIC preseason coaches poll.

“I told the girls how proud I was of them,” MSU coach Mark Graupe said. “Especially considering at Christmas break we were last in the NSIC North and we just had five straight losses of 20 points or more. It would have been easy for them to give up, but they didn’t. That’s what I’m the most proud of this group for, they were just a joy to coach.”

Winona State came out firing out of the gates, taking a 21-11 lead after the first quarter after scoring seven points on five MSU turnovers. At halftime, the Beavers faced a 40-31 deficit.

In what could be a sense of deja vu, WSU guard Allie Pickrain had 16 first half points and was 4-of-7 from 3-point range. When the Warriors and Beavers last played on Jan. 26, Pickrain had 20 points in the first half and was held scoreless in the second half. Pickrain finished with 17 after only scoring one point in the second half.

“After her fourth three I just chewed our girls out,” Graupe said. “I said, ‘Didn’t you learn anything from the first game?’ We just said you had to be tight on her and make her a dribbler. But she had a great first half.”

Entering the fourth quarter, MSU found itself staring at a 52-43 deficit. But thanks to a 15-3 run, including a 10-0 run with five points each from a pair of Minot natives in Holly Johnson and Maddie Wald, the Beavers took their first lead since the first quarter with 3:24 remaining. The reported attendance of 941 at the MSU Dome came alive and tried to will the Beavers to victory.

“We got that lead and the crowd was so into it,” Graupe said. “I just wish we could have brought them home a victory. That’s what I’m most disappointed in that we couldn’t get it done after I was asking for a big crowd all week. We got it, what a crowd, we just wish we could have gotten a win for them.”

The next minute and a half belonged to WSU’s Kayla Schaefer. Schaefer knocked down a jumper to tie the game, then made a contested go-ahead layup to put the Warriors ahead 62-60 with 44.3 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, MSU’s Whitney Molina had a wide open mid-range look, but couldn’t get it to go.

Schaefer then made two free throws to seal the victory for the Warriors.

In her final collegiate game, Johnson finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double. Johnson was the leading scorer (15.8 points per game) for the Beavers this season after spending time at North Dakota State and University of North Dakota.

“We just fell short tonight,” Johnson said. “This was probably the most important game I’ve ever played in during my college career and it was the first season I’ve ever been on a winning team. Credit to my teammates and the coaching staff for putting together this kind of season. There’s no other words but ‘It sucks’ to say we couldn’t make it to the next round.”

Maddie Wald led the Beavers with 16 points, while senior Diondra Denton chipped in nine. MSU shot 42.4 percent from the floor, 7-of-23 from beyond the arc and outrebounded the Warriors 37-29.

After Pickrain, Rachel Novotny led the Warriors with 16 points. WSU shot 45.3 percent from the floor, 10-of-24 from the 3-point line.

Winona State advances to play Northern State in the second round of the NSIC Tournament Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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