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MSU women suffer close Senior Day defeat

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State senior Kari Clements (center) steals the ball Saturday afternoon in a Division II women's basketball game against Northern State at the Minot State Dome.

A memorable Senior Day victory slipped away in the final two minutes, but it was a disappointing first half that the Minot State women’s basketball team really wanted to redo.

The Beavers (14-14, 8-14 NSIC) fell behind early and fought back, but were unable to pull off the storybook ending for their four seniors: Madison Wald, Kari Clements, Whitney Molina and Gabby Wilkinson.

Northern State (10-18, 7-15 NSIC) spoiled the special occasion with a 73-68 road win Saturday afternoon at the Minot State.

“A terrible first half once again,” MSU head coach Mark Graupe said. “Why can’t we play a full 40 minutes? Why do we think we can always come back, just because we have done it before? We can’t just start off and be like, ‘Don’t worry coach, we will come back.’ We can’t have that attitude.”

Northern State pounded the glass for 10 offensive rebounds in the first quarter. They came into the contest averaging 11.3 offensive boards per game.

“I’m sure people will be like, ‘Don’t they work on boxing out?’ (We do) every day,” Graupe said. “There is a difference when you are boxing out a 5-foot-7 girl in practice because we are so small, than against these bigger girls. That is what killed us.”

MSU did get a mini boost off the bench by center Reina Strand, but the Wolves started to hit from the outside as well.

Northern State led 36-25 at halftime after holding its biggest lead of 16 points at 36-20.

The Beavers went to a full-court press and outscored the Wolves, 23-18, in the third quarter.

“That got us moving and being more aggressive,” Graupe said about the change of defense. “But, we can’t do that the whole game because we are so limited. Mariah (Payne), Kari (Clements) and Maddie (Wald) virtually have to play the whole game. And they did all the scoring us again tonight. They will wear out. They can’t go a full 40 minutes pressing.”

A pair of free throws made by Haley Hildenbrand had MSU within a point, 54-53, early in the fourth quarter. But, the Wolves went on a 6-0 run.

Wald answered with a long 3-pointer, then stole the ball for a quick layup.

“It’s not fun to lose,” said Wald, who finished with a game-high 24 points. “But it was fun playing one last time in front of our home fans.”

Payne dropped in a 3-pointer in front of the Beavers’ bench to give MSU its first lead, 61-60, since the opening minute. Not finished, Payne completed a three-point play on MSU’s next possession, 64-62.

Tied at 66-66, Wald had two chances to put the Beavers ahead in her final home game. She missed a fast break layup and rimmed out on an open 3-pointer with 1:16 remaining.

“I wish more that we could redo the first half,” Wald said. “A lot of the times as a team, we wait and wait to give it our all. We always end up playing catch up. I think if we started the game stronger, then it would have been a different outcome.”

Northern State finished strong with Tori Mekash making two free throws and Lexi Wadsworth got position down low for a bucket inside with 20.6 seconds left to give the Wolves a 70-66 lead.

Wadsworth, who racked up a team-high 19 points, made two more free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining for a 73-68 win to close out the regular season.

“It did hit me a little bit,” Clements said about playing her final home game. “But, it’s not really going to hit me until we play our very last game.”

Clements chipped in with 17 points. Payne added 12 points.

Despite the gut-wrenching close loss, Graupe brought the four seniors to center court after the game for a final standing ovation from the home crowd.

“It’s their last time ever in the dome so I wanted the people to give them one last applause,” Graupe said. “And let the public show their appreciation for the time those girls have given.”

Minot State will be the No. 5 seed out of the NSIC North heading into the NSIC Tournament. They will travel to face Winona State in the first round of the single-elimination tournament on Wednesday.

Winona State had no problems with MSU in the regular season, rolling to a 84-46 home victory on Feb. 8.

“That’s what happened last year, we beat Winona State by 26 and they came in here and knocked us off when it counted,” Graupe said. “So, let’s see if we can turn the tables now.”

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

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