MOORHEAD — If Alyssa Peterson goes down as one of Minnesota Crookston’s all-timers, you probably won’t look to Friday night as the start of her legend. 46-point blowouts have that effect. Few, in the moment or afterwards, would choose to overlook that entire forest for a single tree.
Even if there’s something promisingly different about that tree. It stands a little straighter. Its branches are a little more plentiful. Its leaves are a little more vibrant.
Mike Roysland knew his 1-4 team needed something promisingly different heading into Friday’s game at Minnesota State Moorhead. So the Golden Eagles’ head coach, for the first time all season, wrote down Peterson’s name in the starting lineup.
When looked at closely, the earlier metaphor completely falls apart, because Peterson is, well, the farthest thing from a tree. At 5-foot-7, the freshman guard was either the smallest or second-smallest player on the court in each of her 32 minutes Friday.
That wasn’t much of a problem for Peterson in high school. At Menagha, she scored at will, finishing her career with over 2,000 points and All-State honors her junior and senior seasons. She led the Braves to a 60-5 record and two state tournament appearances in those years.
However, the adjustment to college basketball is often hardest on players like Peterson, a big-time bucket getter from the lowest rank of Minnesota high school basketball. The players are stronger, faster, more experienced. That disparity is more evident the lesser a player’s previous competition was.
And sure, Peterson could score in high school, but so could everyone else — it’s why they’re playing college basketball. Almost every freshman is forced to adjust to a new role upon joining an established team — read: less shots, different shots — and Peterson was no exception.
“It's a lot different game here,” Peterson said. “I’m not expecting to score as much in college. Lots of great players around me and they should be taking charge out there.”
But on Friday, Minnesota Crookston — averaging just 61 points per game and playing the three-time defending NSIC champions — needed Peterson to do that — or at least give an infusion of energy.
“She’s a good little player, she’s got the capability to score the basketball,” Roysland said. “I think she’s got a bright future. … We just gotta find someone that can give us a lift.”
Here’s where the context becomes important again. The Golden Eagles lost to the Dragons, 89-43. They hit just 12 shots, five 3-pointers. Peterson scored 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting, 3-of-8 from 3-point range — 35 percent of her team’s points, 33 percent of their field goals, 60 percent of their treys.
Two of those treys came in the first quarter, when UMC still had a prayer. Peterson stood with the ball at the top of the key and noticed that her defender didn’t quite have her hands where they should have been. So she dropped one in the chamber and pulled the trigger, finding nothing but net from 24 feet.
“It just gave me confidence throughout the rest of the game to try to stay focused and keep shooting,” Peterson said.
That gave the Golden Eagles their first, and only lead, of the game. MSUM scored the next 13 points before Peterson notched another three. It was 16-8 then, but in the blink of an eye, the Dragons added 18 points to that lead.
Peterson wasn’t about to drag an overmatched team back into the contest. It’s hard enough to keep your head up when you trail by 30 in another team’s barn, much less spark a rally. But Peterson played with a fearlessness that belied her youth and the scoreboard. Her footwork was crisp, her passes sharp, her drives decisive, her shots ambitious but supremely confident. She pinballed into the lane and scrapped with taller, stronger opponents without a second thought.
“I wasn’t super nervous,” she said about getting her first start. “I just knew I had teammates who had my back, and I put my trust in them and they made me feel comfortable.”
So it may not be the highest of honors to be the highest point of a defeat in which the other team more than doubled your score. But the facts are this — Peterson had scored just 11 points, total, coming into Friday. She hadn’t played more than 17 minutes in a game or hit more than one field goal.
Few would venture to call this a true “breakout” game. Context matters. But with or without it, Peterson did nothing but play tough, determined, skilled basketball — exactly what UMC was looking for in the first place.
“She works incredibly hard, she's got a high IQ, and obviously she can attack the rim and she can knock down the three,” Roysland said. “She's only gonna get better.”
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