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Go big or go home

MSU basketball teams hit the road for NSIC Tourney first round

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State guard Max Cody (right) dribbles the ball while being guarded by U-Mary forward and Minot native Justin Engg (left) in an NSIC men's basketball game played Dec. 30, 2018, at the MSU Dome.

After the Minot State men’s basketball team started the conference season with a 2-9 record and the women went one loss worse at 2-10, it was apparent that both programs had fallen into holes too deep to climb out and weren’t going to be able to host a postseason game this season.

Despite a surge from both teams late in the season, the inevitable couldn’t be avoided. The Beavers will find themselves in hostile territory this evening with their seasons on the line.

Not ideal. But the postseason offers the unique opportunity to forget mediocre campaigns with a single memorable moment.

That’s what the Beavers are seeking this evening in the first round of the NSIC Tournament. Where a win will extend the season and a loss will mark the end of the road.

Here is an overview of Minot State’s first-round road tests.

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State guard Mariah Payne (4) directs traffic in an NSIC women's basketball game played earlier this season in Minot.

Men: Cougar

hunting, aiming for

a repeat performance

The NSIC North No. 5-seeded Beavers (14-17) turned to senior forward David Akibo the first time Minot State and Sioux Falls squared off this season on Jan. 19. Akibo went off for a career-high 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead MSU to a 75-70 road win.

The Beavers would certainly take a similar outing from their big man this evening to knock off the NSIC South No. 4-seeded Cougars (18-10) once again.

While Akibo has been solid all season, averaging a team-high 18.6 points and eight rebounds per game, the Beavers are at their best when they are getting secondary scoring out of Kyle Beisch, Drake Jeffries and Dorian Aluyi.

Sophomore point guard Max Cody, a native of Melbourne, Australia, has been the facilitator and floor general at both ends of the court. In his first season of getting extended varsity playing time, Cody leads the NSIC in assists (182), second in steals (40) and second in most minutes played (1,095). He is five assists away from tying Luis Ricci Maia (2017-18) for the DII era school record for most assists in a single season.

The Beavers’ offense only scores 72.8 points per game — second-worst in the NSIC — but still manages to shoot the fourth-best field goal percentage in the conference at 49.3 percent from the floor.

Defensively, the 73.3 points allowed per game is slightly better than the NSIC average (75.5).

MSU will be tasked with slowing down Sioux Falls senior guard Trevon Evans. He is the third-best scorer in the conference, averaging 22.9 points per game and makes an average of three 3-pointers per game. Evans dropped 32 points on the Beavers back in January.

Drew Guebert is also coming off a strong performance in the Cougars’ final regular season game. The senior forward put up a team-high 20 points and scored the game-winning basket in the final seconds to secure a 79-77 win over Wayne State.

Tipoff at the Stewart Center this evening is set for 7:30 p.m.

The winner advances to the NSIC quarterfinals being held Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. The Beavers, looking for a return trip to the Pentagon, won their first NSIC Tournament game in program history last season.

Women: Role reversal in a rematch encounter with Winona State

A rather bizarre rivalry is brewing between the NSIC North No. 5-seeded Beavers (13-15) and the NSIC South No. 4-seeded Winona State Warriors (14-12). To better understand this season’s first round NSIC Tournament affair, a revisit to last year is needed.

MSU dismantled the Warriors, 76-50, in the regular season. But, Winona State got the last laugh with a 66-60 road victory over the Beavers in the first round of the NSIC Tournament at the MSU Dome.

This season, MSU is hoping the opposite will happen after Winona State walloped them by 38 points, 84-46, a little under three weeks ago. So, a little payback can be extracted tonight.

The 46 points scored tied a season-low. MSU averages 65.9 points per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the floor — second-best in the NSIC. The 84 points scored for Winona State was a season-high for them. The Warriors sank 15 3-pointers in the contest, two shy of tying the school record.

Per usual, the Beavers will roll out their senior guard trio of Madison Wald (13.9 points per game), Mariah Payne (13.2) and Kari Clements (13.1) this evening. They were held to 15 points in the first meeting. Wald was shut down completely and didn’t score.

MSU missed having forward Calli Delsman in its regular season finale after she injured her ankle in warmups. Finding points and rebounds in the frontcourt will be critical this evening, whether that’s Delsman, Haley Hildenbrand, Anna Counts or Reina Strand.

As for Winona State, there is hardly a more balanced attack in the NSIC. The Warriors have five players averaging between 11.3 and 9.4 points per game. Senior 6-foot-2 forward Rachel Novotny is arguably the most dangerous, averaging a near double-double with 9.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game along with 39 blocked shots.

Yet, MSU held Novotny to just two points and three rebounds in the first meeting. It was sophomore guard Allie Pickrain who really torched the Beavers with 23 points off seven made triples. The Warriors pose a threat inside and out.

Winona State reached the NSIC Tournament championship game last season and haven’t been beaten in the first round since 2014. MSU has advanced to the NSIC Tournament quarterfinals only once in program history (2014).

The rematch between Minot State and Winona State is set for 6 p.m. this evening at Winona, Minnesota.

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

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