EISEN: Reality of rivalry defeats for the MSU basketball teams

By ALEX EISEN

Sports Editor

aeisen@minotdailynews.com

The final outlook was eerily similar Saturday in Bismarck for the Minot State basketball teams against the University of Mary.

Both MSU teams got off to a slow start, fought back, but ultimately came up short. The women lost 64-58 and the men gave up one more point to fall 65-58.

It’s not how the Beavers wanted to open conference play, but the defeats did paint a clearer picture of what both teams are capable of and what needs to get fixed for them to be more complete teams moving forward.

While losing to your rival obviously stings, how the Beavers channel this temporary pain will be critical. It can be used as motivation to bring each team closer together or end up being the first major blow that derails the season in a hurry.

Time will determine which narrative prevails.

At the end of the season, what happened in Bismarck on Saturday will be remembered as a learning experience that wasn’t desired, but probably necessary to improve.

For the women, they found out they could compete against a team with arguably more talent and the importance of executing all the small details late in games.

U-Mary was ranked sixth in the NSIC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Beavers slotted in at 14th.

So, the fact that the upset-minded Beavers (5-2, 0-1 NSIC) had a 49-48 lead with 6:01 remaining shouldn’t go overlooked, especially when they could have let the game slip away multiple times — trailing 9-0 in the first quarter and 43-36 in the third quarter.

In a game where MSU guard Madison Wald struggled shooting (4-for-16), her fellow senior backcourt partner Kari Clements continued to be the offensive spark plug the Beavers could rely on. She has now scored 18 or more points in the last three games.

Forward Haley Hildenbrand also emerged with 12 points against one of the better frontcourts in the NSIC with Gabbie Bohl, Cassie Askvig and Lexie Schneider.

Red flags, however, surfaced when the game was on the line.

MSU head coach Mark Graupe ran into a problem he hadn’t practice with his team yet: The art of fouling.

Understandable, it’s not something worth going in-depth over just a few weeks into a new season. Graupe and the Beavers don’t even have inbound plays yet.

Nonetheless, with fouls to give late in the game, the Beavers weren’t aggressive enough when they should have been and then went to the other extreme by getting called for an intentional foul on a shove.

Tough way to lose, but having that awareness from a game situation is likely more beneficial in the long run than any coaching Graupe could have done prior to the game about tactical fouling.

For the men, they found out how much of a grind this NSIC season is going to be and good defense means nothing when giving away second chance points.

U-Mary, based off the preseason poll, is predicted to finish last in the NSIC this season. MSU won both games against the Marauders last season by double digits (91-61 at home and 77-65 on the road).

Times have changed, and the youthful Beavers (5-5, 0-1 NSIC) are still looking for their identity.

Offensively, MSU gets trapped between slowing down the pace to fed its leading scorer David Akibo (16 points and 8 rebounds per game) and wanting to get out in transition. Finding that balance will be key.

Likewise, unlocking the playmaking abilities of Dorian Aluyi and a more consistent shooting stroke from Kyle Beisch would give the Beavers enough weapons to keep up on any given night.

That hasn’t happened yet, though, as MSU is averaging the fewest points in the conference this season (66.6 per game).

On defense, the Achilles’ heel has been cleaning up the glass. In four out of MSU’s five losses, the Beavers were outrebounded.

Down the stretch, that was MSU’s downfall on Saturday with too many put backs late after forcing a contested shot.

Holding opponents to a .403 shooting percentage should equate to a record that’s better than .500.

But, no reason to panic. The first conference game set the stage. Now improvements must be made.

Before replacing your calendar, mark the rematch down. The Marauders make the return trip to the Minot State Dome on Dec. 30. Should be another interesting encounter.

This is the opinion of Alex Eisen. He covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

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