Rick Neumann strode down the empty hallway and walked up to Mike Roysland. He didn’t waste time with an introduction — the two men had seen plenty of each other over the last two hours. He made his point as soon as Roysland turned and faced him.
“You guys deserved to win.”
The University of Mary head coach had the liberty to offer such consolation, having just led his team to a 77-73 win over Minnesota Crookston women’s basketball. The Golden Eagles may have agreed but would not say so themselves in fear of marking themselves sore losers — if they did agree, that sentiment boiled over into vexation instead.
“We’re there, we have the skill to do it,” said sophomore forward Julia Peplinski. “We are completely capable of coming out on top of a game like this.”
Roysland offered the term “positive frustration” to describe his team’s attitude. An opportunity missed, but a reassuring note — Minnesota Crookston is right there.
But reassuring notes alone can’t carry a team through a four-month-long season. At 2-15 and 1-12 in NSIC play, swept up an eight-game losing streak, the Golden Eagles are losing patience for moral victories. The very idea would hardly have registered on the downcast faces of Peplinski and Abby Guidinger (Jr., G/F) as they stood in the same hallway hashing out what went wrong.
“We just need to push through games,” Guidinger said. “That’s the only thing. We’re not executing at the end.”
In a season that has been defined by inconsistency — the kind you find in a team with ten underclassmen — UMC on Friday night came as close as it ever has to playing a full, 40-minute game.
This came even with regulars Kylie Post (So., G) and Alyssa Peterson (Fr., G) out due to the flu, and Paige Weakley (Sr., G) out indefinitely due to an Achilles tendon injury. It forced Roysland’s hand, as he went with a starting lineup of Emma Carpenter (Fr., G), Mattea Vetsch (Fr., G), Guidinger, Peplinski and Mary Burke (R-Fr., F) — a group that has barely played together this season.
But everything came together from the jump. Vetsch, who has mostly been a 3-point shooter as a freshman, showed increased confidence in putting the ball on the floor: she hit three of her five shots inside the arc and knocked down two treys to boot. Peplinski has had issues staying on the court due to foul trouble, but she maintained her scoring and rebounding efficiency over a longer stretch with 19 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. Guidinger got to her spots — the high post and the elbows — knocking down face-up jumpers and flicking passes all over the court.
The Golden Eagles picked the Marauders apart for the first 20 minutes of play. They shot 56 percent from the field on a parade of back cuts and drives to the lane, and their 42-36 lead at that point seemed larger than it was.
Minnesota Crookston has been here many times before, but it reached the final minutes of the second half having maintained its lead throughout. Every time UMary threatened, the Golden Eagles pushed them aside, and led by eight with five minutes to play.
That’s when it all came apart.
The Golden Eagles turned it over nine times in the fourth quarter, including four in the last three minutes. They came from six different players, a marker of just how much their efficiency tailed off in crunch time.
The turnovers are almost beside the point. They were the reason that Friday got away, but they’re only one of many things that can go wrong in a basketball game. This season, at one point or another this season, for two minutes or 20 at a time, just about all of them have hurt Minnesota Crookston.
“We competed for four quarters,” Roysland said. “Every time they had an answer, we had an answer back. It's one of those things where it's been a roller coaster, we get a couple quarters or whatever, but I thought we were pretty consistent for four quarters. If we could run the last three minutes back, it would have been better for us.”
When asked if the fashion this loss came in — UMC was ahead or tied for all but 56 seconds — made it more frustrating to deal with, the Golden Eagles wholeheartedly agreed.
The way Minnesota Crookston played on Friday, it may take only one win to for it break through. But after the latest glimpse at how close they are, how many more glimpses can the Golden Eagles tolerate?
“I think if we can get the one (win), we can get two, but we just gotta keep playing until we can get that,” Roysland said. “They're frustrated when the opportunity is there.”
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