Golden Eagles fall short, but regroup successfully over opening weekend
On Saturday, when Minnesota Crookston women's basketball took the court for its season-opener at Concordia-St. Paul, the team which coach Mike Roysland had grown accustomed to seeing in practice was nowhere to be found.
The Golden Eagles played rushed. They ran up and down the floor, putting up bad shots and throwing the ball away. They shot just 22 percent from the field and turned the ball over 27 times, allowing the Golden Bears easy baskets in transition.
In Roysland's eyes, things simply snowballed. As UMC lost confidence, CSP gained it, and the end result was a 95-32 defeat — the Golden Eagles' worst loss, and lowest-scoring game, of the Division II era.
"Everything that could have went wrong on Saturday, it did," Roysland said.
But just 24 hours later, Minnesota Crookston appeared to have somehow driven the memory of the 63-point hammering out of its collective mind.
The Golden Eagles were the aggressors Sunday, jumping out to a seven-point lead within two minutes. While they still shot poorly (just 17-of-64), they grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, forced 23 turnovers and hit twice as many free throws as Concordia-St. Paul. With 49 seconds remaining, UMC led, just as it had done for over 36 minutes to that point.
"They started off with great energy Sunday, and we got some things going a little bit," Roysland said. "... That gave us some momentum early on in that game, because it started to go well and they just kept feeding on that."
But the Golden Eagles couldn't hang on down the stretch. They shot just 15 percent in the final quarter, and six turnovers over that same span allowed the Golden Bears to pull out a 54-53 win when Mary Burke's last-second heave flew long.
Still, while UMC didn't come back from St. Paul with a win, it came back with its confidence restored.
"We found some things, and obviously it didn't equate to a win, but that's what these first non-conference games are all about," Roysland said. "It's been a long time since anybody's played a game. It was interesting to get out there."
On the positive side: the Golden Eagles were able to mentally regroup in the span of only one day, and in the process, put forth what Roysland called one of their best defensive efforts in a "long time."
Junior center Bren Fox, who spurred Sunday's performance with an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double, did "about all that we can ask of her." Junior guard Kylie Post's aggression driving to the rim resulted in 10 fourth-quarter points on Sunday. Freshman guard Jes Mertens, UMC's third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, recorded eight steals and blocked three shots for the weekend.
But as a team, the Golden Eagles shot just 24.6 percent over two games, while allowing CSP to hit 51.3 percent. They committed 45 turnovers on the weekend. Post got to the line but struggled to finish in the lane, while Mertens made her share of freshman mistakes.
"We definitely need to shoot the ball better," Roysland said. "Especially when we have so many good shots at the rim and good looks from outside. That's the reason we lost. We were just a couple shots away, and a lot of those were either right at the rim or wide-open threes. You gotta make some shots."
Whether Minnesota Crookston starts to do so this weekend at Minnesota State Moorhead or later, its opening weekend wasn't a total loss. Saturday, the Golden Eagles found their worst-case scenario. Sunday, they were able to move past it. And in the process, they saw how much further they need to go to get to where they really want to be.
"I do believe, moving forward, (the weekend) was a great experience for them to see, 'Okay, this is who we don't wanna be,' " Roysland said. "This is how we cannot play the game, and this is how we should play the game."
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