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No letdown: Shorthanded MSU WBB handles Upper Iowa, 73-54

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State forward Mollie Wilson tracks down a loose ball Saturday evening inside the MSU Dome. Wilson finished with a career-high 19 points.

With junior forward Haley Hildenbrand sidelined on the bench with an illness, the Minot State frontcourt stepped up in her absence.

Sophomore forward Mollie Wilson dropped a career-high 19 points and sophomore center Anna Counts picked up a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) in a 73-54 win Saturday inside the MSU Dome.

“We had to make up the points and rebounds that she adds for our team,” Counts said. “I thought we did a very good job of that. The big dogs, as well as the guards, did what we could to make up what (Hildenbrand) does for us.”

The Beavers were coming off a 68-53 upset win over Winona State on Friday night. So, not having a letdown on Saturday was a big concern coming into the conference contest.

“I’m not going to lie to you, in my three years, this was probably the most nervous I’ve been (and) that was this morning,” MSU head coach Mark Graupe said. “After an emotional win the night before, how often do you see that letdown? I was scared stiff — a winnable game, and we would have a major letdown. I was a mess this morning. I couldn’t sleep.”

Graupe’s fears were put to bed in the opening minutes.

MSU (6-16, 3-15 NSIC) opened up a double-digit lead with a sizable 17-2 run.

The Beavers’ stout defense only gave up two field goals, allowing a season-low 5 points in the first quarter.

“First half, I think we carried over from last night,” Graupe said. “The difference in the game was the start. Obviously, in the second half, maybe we didn’t play our best. But, we had such a great start and built that cushion. The defense was really, really good in the first half.”

Upper Iowa (3-21, 2-16 NSIC) made six field goals from six different players in the first half, with four of the shots being 3-pointers. That produced an abysmal 23.1 shooting percentage from the floor.

MSU nearly tripled that at 59.3% on its way to a 20-point halftime lead, 38-18.

“We won our matchups,” Wilson said about the defensive performance. “A lot of communication.”

The Peacocks outscored MSU 20-13 in the third quarter. But, the Beavers got back on track in the final frame to secure a 73-54 win.

Wilson got a bulk of her points by knocking down jumpers.

Counts and Calli Delsman cleaned up the boards with 21 combined rebounds. MSU won the rebound battle 35-26.

Senior forward Reina Strand also got a mention from Graupe.

“Reina (Strand) is as good as any of our posts on defense,” Graupe said. “Mollie (Wilson) and Anna (Counts) had big games. Haley (Hildenbrand) had a career night last night, but we also have others who can pick it up as well.”

MSU guards Bethany Theodore (11 points) and Mariah Payne (10) joined Wilson and Counts in double figures. Delsman just missed out with 9 points.

Upper Iowa’s leading scorer on the season, Jessica Musgrave, failed to make a field goal (0-for-11) before fouling out with 9 points — all off of free throws.

“Yesterday, our mentality was not letting the win go to our heads,” Counts said. “We celebrated for about five, 10 minutes in the locker room. Then, we were like it’s recovery time. Going into today, we had to bring our energy from yesterday. It worked out for us.”

MSU’s last home games of the season are next weekend against Minnesota Crookston on Friday (Feb. 14) and Bemidji State on Saturday (Feb. 15).

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

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