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Pulling out a close one

MSU men buckle down defensively for a statement win over Augustana

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State guard Max Cody (5) surveys the floor against Augustana Friday evening at the Minot State Dome. Cody finished with a game-high 18 points and five assists in a 66-64 Minot State victory.

The Minot State men’s basketball team had been in this position before. Frankly, too many times this season.

Leading in the final minutes Friday evening against Augustana (13-8, 9-6 NSIC), the Beavers (10-14, 5-10 NSIC) weren’t going to let another close game slip through their fingers. Drake Jeffries made sure of that when he made a jumper off the right elbow with seven seconds remaining and beat the shot clock in the process.

It was effectively the dagger, as Minot State closed out a 66-64 win Friday night at the Minot State Dome.

“I saw Max (Cody) getting a little panicked, so I came back to the ball,” Jeffries said. “I heard the bench go, ‘Three, two…’ So, I knew I had enough time to get a shot fake off, one dribble. That’s just the shot I work on every day: one dribble and pull up to the right. It felt good.”

The teams couldn’t be separated by more than four points in the first half. Stats were fairly even across the board: shots made (13-12 MSU), rebounds (22-21 Augie) and turnovers (4-3 MSU).

Alex Eisen/MDN MSU center Kody Dwyer goes up for a layup Friday evening against Augustana at the Minot State Dome.

Despite three Beavers — David Akibo, Kody Dwyer and Jeffries — scoring a team-high six points in the first half, MSU narrowly led at the break, 30-28.

“I thought we had a lot of really good looks to stretch the game open that we missed,” MSU head coach Matt Murken said. “I thought Kyle (Beisch) had a great game and he went 1-for-10 from the floor, but we shot mostly the right shots and he missed a bunch. But, he kept defending for one the leading scorers in the conference really well. No turnovers and two assists. Just a lot of intangible plays.”

MSU’s biggest lead was 11 points, 49-38, with a little over 12 minutes remaining. Then, the Vikings mounted their comeback with an 8-0 run.

“I was like, ‘Man, we have been in this situation five or six times this year, we can’t do this again,'” Jeffries said. “We had to stay focused, stay locked in and finish this thing. We got to pull it out.”

Jeffries and Augustana’s Michael Schaefer traded highlight-reel dunks over defenders with 3:30 remaining. MSU still clung onto to a four-point lead, 60-56.

Akibo brought the large MSU crowd to its feet again with under a minute to play. Working in the post, Akibo spun past his defender for a turnaround in the paint. He was fouled but made the basket for a three-point play. Pleased with the result, Akibo flexed his muscles in celebration.

Dylan LeBrun made a 3-pointer and an uncontested alley-oop to keep the Vikings’ hopes alive, but Jeffries’ jumper ended up being the game-winning basket.

“This is good for the growth of our team,” Murken said. “We have had games in a similar situation where we are up 8-10 points by the last media timeout, and not finish the game off… This shows that we are learning from some of those mistakes. But, there are also some things we certainly have to do better.”

MSU guard Max Cody had a strong second half for the Beavers and finished with a team-high 18 points and five assists.

“I was just being aggressive,” Cody said. “They were going under the screens, so that mid-range game was open. That’s one of my favorite shots, so I knew all the work I put into it was going to pay off. And I was lucky enough to make a few shots.”

Murken added: “The best part of (Cody’s) game was his leadership when it got to crunch time. He organized our team and that’s far more important for him than the scoring is.”

Alongside Cody, also finishing in double figures for the Beavers was Akibo (16 and 11 rebounds), Dwyer (10) and Jeffries (10). Augustana was led by Schaefer with 21 points and 17 rebounds.

“(Augustana) has a really good team,” Jeffries said. “A lot of young guys that are really good. I’m just really happy with our team and the way we played.”

Next up, MSU takes on Wayne State at 5:30 p.m. this evening 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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