NSIC Tournament begins: MSU men hope for first postseason win in DII era

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

There’s been one proverbial elephant in the room since the Minot State men’s basketball team’s season began in November.

Several seniors – Luis Ricci Maia, Tyler Rudolph, Russ Davis and Brandon Green – have been instrumental in developing the Beavers’ program from bottom feeder to contender over the course of their careers.

A program-high 19 wins in the Division II era this season has been the best example of their constant labor finally coming to fruition. But there’s one final piece missing from the resume of those four players: a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament victory. Since joining the NSIC, the Beavers are 0-5 in the conference tournament.

The closest they came to a victory was last season in their first-ever home NSIC Tournament game. Alas, the University of Sioux Falls’ Drew Guebert broke the Beavers’ heart by sinking the game-winning 3-pointer in a 80-77 loss.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room. As many wins and school records as that group already owns, their careers won’t mean nearly as much as they would if they can be the first team to bring Minot a postseason win. And this is their last shot.

It’s a win or go home game when the Beavers take on Upper Iowa at 8 p.m. tonight at the MSU Dome. MSU is the No. 3 seed from the NSIC North Division, while Upper Iowa is the No. 6 team from the NSIC South Division.

“It’s a competitive group,” Murken said. “We’ve always been about trying to win that next game, but any time moving forward from here, we have to keep earning more games. This time of year, as long as you keep winning, you get to keep playing. That makes it fun, but you have to stay in the present and not get too far ahead.

“There’s no substitute for guys that have been in these games and there’s no substitute for talented players. We probably have as much talent from top to bottom since I’ve been here. I think that gives us a great chance, so it’s up to us to make the most out of it and find a way to get a win.”

If the Beavers defeat the Peacocks, they’ll move on to face the winner of Mankato and Moorhead this weekend at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. When Upper Iowa (17-14, 10-12 NSIC) and MSU (19-9, 13-9) met in the regular season on Jan. 27 at the MSU Dome, the Peacocks shot 64 percent en route to exploiting the Beavers’ defense in a 99-89 win.

Upper Iowa caught MSU in the midst of what would eventually be a six-game slide, but the Beavers are focused on not letting that happen again.

“We didn’t play our best basketball when we played them the first time,” Rudolph said. “I’m excited to get another chance at it and hopefully get some revenge.”

The Peacocks are one of the highest scoring teams in the conference, ranking third in points per game with 80.6. They’re also the second-worst team defensively, allowing 80.7 points a night.

“We love to go up-tempo,” Upper Iowa coach Brooks McKowen said. “I wish we could have gotten a few more stops than we have this season, but that sometimes happens at this pace. We know that Minot State isn’t going to be an easy matchup and they have one of the best players in the league in Rudolph, but we hope we can rise to the challenge.”

Four players from Upper Iowa average double figures per night, including Carson Parker (16.9 ppg), Joe Smoldt (13.6), Dennis Austin III (12.5) and Kam Rowan (10.9). As a team, Upper Iowa shoots 48 percent from the floor and 39 percent beyond the arc.

“We want to play our game,” Murken said. “We probably don’t play as fast as they do and we probably want to throw it a little more inside than them. But it’ll be up to us to execute our game plan. When we’ve done that this year, we’ve been pretty good. We have to play to our identity and not get wrapped up in theirs.

“If we keep them in the 70s, we have a great chance to win tomorrow. If it’s in the 80s or 90s, then it’s going to be a lot more interesting.”

NOTES: Minot State is 12-3 at home this season. … The Beavers are 14-0 this season when outrebounding their opponent. … The last time MSU played Upper Iowa, senior forward Tyler Rudolph broke the school’s all-time scoring record and currently has 1,936 points in his career. … This marks the first time in Minot State’s Division II era the men and women hosted an NSIC Tournament game in the same season. … Upper Iowa leads the all-time series with MSU 8-1. … The Beavers are third in the nation in fewest turnovers per game with 9.3.

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