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‘A night-and-day difference’

MSU men dominate Crookston, bounce back from Bemidji defeat

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State guard Kyle Beisch (11) soars through the air for a layup Saturday afternoon against Minnesota Crookston in Minot.

The defensive effort on Friday against Bemidji State was inadequate and resulted in a discouraging 93-82 defeat for the Minot State men’s basketball team.

Less than 24 hours later, Minot State (9-14, 4-10 NSIC) held one of the top scorers in Division II, Harrison Cleary (23 points per game), to six points and no made field goals.

The drastic turnaround resulted in an emphatic 92-61 home victory for the Beavers over Minnesota Crookston (13-10, 6-8 NSIC) Saturday night at the Minot State Dome.

“We played with a defensive mindset tonight,” MSU head coach Matt Murken said. “Our defense, at times, created offense for us. But, I think our offense is good enough that it will take care of itself. We just got to have a defensive mindset at all times. A night-and-day difference from last night to tonight.”

Minot State freshman guard/forward Aleksa Cucovic added: “After last night’s loss, coach got on us because we didn’t execute our defensive plan. Tonight, we executed our defense perfectly. Everyone dug a little bit deeper inside of themselves. We took a little bit of energy off the offensive end and put it into defense. Obviously, it paid off.”

Alex Eisen/MDN MSU guard Max Cody (5) directs traffic on Saturday evening at the Minot State Dome.

MSU junior shooting guard Kyle Beisch came out firing in the opening minutes. Beisch was in double figures, with 10 early points, before Crookston was and put the Beavers ahead, 14-4.

MSU maintained and extended its lead through the first half with a stout defense, holding Crookston to 10-for-36 shooting (27.8 percent). The Golden Eagles were forced into erratic shot attempts and allowed MSU to build up its biggest lead so far going into halftime, 44-28.

“We kept bodies in front of (Cleary),” Murken said. “Leading scorer in the league and we held him to without a field goal. I thought our forwards did a nice job staying in front of him, and our guards did a nice job of staying around him when they did hand-off actions or ball screens with him.”

Cleary wasn’t a factor at all (0-for-7 from the floor), despite being a Top-15 scorer in Division II this season.

“We just wanted to keep two guys in front of Cleary the whole time,” Kody Dwyer said. “He can go off for 40-50 points and has done that all year. So, we made sure he didn’t have the ball as much as possible.”

At the other end of the court, MSU senior forward David Akibo was a forced inside with 16 points and five rebounds in the first half. Akibo, finishing with a game-high 28 points, was one of five Beavers to finish in double figures with Beisch (19), Dwyer (16), Max Cody (11) and Cucovic (11).

Dwyer, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, did his damage inside with a clinical 8-for-9 shooting display around the paint. Cody got into the lane for his buckets and dished out 10 assists for a double-double. Cucovic spotted up from deep and made three triples.

“When we just stay solid and run our stuff and don’t try to play outside of ourselves, we are going to get the right shots,” Dwyer said. “Akibo is going to get post touches. I’ll get dunks. Cucovic is going to get threes. Everyone is going to shoot their shots and everything will fall in place.”

Minot State, after not leading on Friday against Bemidji State, led wire-to-wire on Saturday against Crookston.

The only hiccup the Beavers had was some foul trouble in the second half. Crookston found itself in the bonus with 14 minutes remaining. MSU cautiously worked around that problem and limited the Golden Eagles to 33.8 percent shooting for the contest.

Forward Josh Collins led Crookston with 17 points while providing some interesting matchup situations for the Beavers, as Collins frequently manned up against MSU point guard Cody and dropped into the post when needed.

Overall, the Beavers did most of their damage in transition by turning defense into quick offense.

“When you force a missed shot or a turnover, you aren’t going against their base (defense),” Murken said. “We got them scrambling back and they had to transition out of that. We did a really good job of taking advantage of that.”

Injured Minot State starters Dorian Aluyi and Trevor Rothstein both sat out and didn’t play Saturday.

The Beavers host Augustana (Feb. 1) and Wayne State (Feb. 2) next weekend at the Minot State Dome.

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

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