Survive and advance: MSU men preparing for rematch with Mankato in NSIC quarterfinals

Minot State's Russ Davis (20) converts a layup during a men's college basketball game Wednesday at the MSU Dome in Minot. Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. –Wednesday was a monumental day for the Minot State men’s basketball team.

The Beavers won their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament game in program history, taking down Upper Iowa 91-71 at the MSU Dome.

It was a nice moment that has been long overdue for MSU’s seniors. But the Beavers are hoping that win is not the highlight of their season.

“We’re not done yet,” MSU senior forward Tyler Rudolph said after his team’s win against the Peacocks. “We want to make some noise moving forward.”

MSU has an opportunity to extend its postseason run when it faces Minnesota State Mankato at 2:30 p.m. today in the NSIC Tournament quarterfinals at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

If victorious against the Mavericks (21-8), the Beavers (20-9) will play the winner of Northern State and Minnesota Duluth at Noon on Monday.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” MSU coach Matt Murken said Wednesday. “They hit a little slide for a second like we did, but it will be two 20-win teams going at it. You can’t ask for anything more. I feel like if we execute our game plan, we can beat anybody.”

When these teams last met, the Beavers beat Mankato for the first time in school history with a 91-83 win on Jan. 12 at the MSU Dome. That game might have been the most entertaining of the season, as the Mavericks erased a five-point deficit with 15 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, then the Beavers went on a 14-1 run in the closing minutes to escape with a victory.

“We had way too many empty possessions in transition in our last game against them,” Mankato coach Matt Margenthaler said. “I look at this as a great opportunity to come back and beat a team that we lost to earlier this season.”

Like the Beavers, the Mavericks seemingly couldn’t lose to start the year, then hit a late-season slump that included Mankato losing its last three regular season games and costing itself a chance at the NSIC South title.

It almost appeared Mankato’s season would end prematurely Wednesday, but the No. 2 team from the NSIC South escaped with a three-point win over MSU Moorhead, the No. 7 team from the NSIC North, in its first round NSIC Tournament game.

Despite being ranked No. 7 in the latest Central Region Rankings, Mankato needs a victory to have any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Considering the Beavers, the No. 3 team from the NSIC North, also need a victory to keep their season alive, this matchup features two desperate teams.

“We’ve been like a cat with nine lives this season. And we’re down to our last life,” Margenthaler said. “That first Wednesday tournament game is always the hardest. Moorhead had almost nothing to play for and came out relaxed and hit a lot of shots. But we were able to get a win and we still have lofty expectations for ourselves.”

The Mavericks are bolstered by guard Charlie Brown, who leads the team in scoring with 16.6 points per game. Brown was recently selected to the All-NSIC first team.

“He’s just incredibly consistent,” Margenthaler said. “We go as he goes. Charlie is certainly capable of making the type of plays you need to advance in this tournament.”

Mankato has another All-NSIC first teamer in Kevin Krieger, a 6-foot-6 guard that puts up 16.2 points per night.

NOTES: Minot State’s Tyler Rudolph was named the NSIC Player of the Year Thursday following an outstanding senior season. The Bismarck native averages 20.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and owns the school record for most career points (1,964) and rebounds (905). … Senior point guard Luis Ricci Maia earned second team All-NSIC honors after leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2). … The Beavers are 1-5 all-time against Mankato. That lone win came earlier this season in a 91-83 overtime victory on Jan. 12. … Minot State is 18-2 this season when recording more assists than its opponents.

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