Bemidji State pulls away to beat UMC, 79-65, in Golden Eagles' final game
When the Minnesota Crookston women's basketball team took the court Saturday, it knew that it was doing so for the final time.
In a normal year, every team in the NSIC qualifies for the postseason. But with a COVID-19-shortened 2021 season, only the top four in each division move on to the conference tournament next week in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Golden Eagles, sitting in last place in the NSIC North, had long since been eliminated from that conversation.
"Let's just try to end on a really good note here," UMC coach Mike Roysland said of how his team approached its game against Bemidji State. "Put your best foot forward here and play the best game that you've played all year long."
For a few brief moments, the Golden Eagles were in position for such an ending. But the Beavers, who will compete for a conference title next week, pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 79-65 win.
"These kids have battled all year long," Roysland said. "We just weren't efficient enough on both ends. Bemidji just played better than we did."
Before the game, UMC's mindset, according to Roysland, was to take away Bemidji State's potent inside game. Forward Rachel Heittola scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in leading her team to a 79-77 win Friday, and the Golden Eagles (3-13, 3-11 NSIC) didn't want to let that happen again.
Even so, Bemidji State (9-5, 8-4) could do no wrong on offense in the first half. It knocked down six 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes, opening up a 23-18 lead after the first quarter and a 42-26 advantage late in the second.
Roysland chalked it up to the Beavers' superior ball movement, which allowed them to get a variety of open looks. While Heittola scored just six points, guards Trinity Myer and Sydney Zerr combined for 19, with Zerr knocking down three 3-pointers.
In the third quarter, though, it was Minnesota Crookston's offense that shined. The Golden Eagles began the period with five straight points from Emma Carpenter (Jr., G), making it a seven-point game, and shot 56 percent from the floor. Bren Fox (Jr., C) and Jes Mertens (Fr., G) each had six points in the frame.
That set the table for perhaps the play of the season for the Golden Eagles. With time running down on the third quarter, junior guard Kylie Post took two dribbles, brought the ball back over her shoulder and hurled it downcourt.
Almost before anyone in the building realized that Post's heave was on-line, it splashed through the net. Lysaker Gymnasium exploded for everything its COVID-limited capacity allowed, and UMC went into the fourth quarter down 59-54 instead of 59-51.
"I just thought, in the moment, that hopefully that would give us some confidence rolling into the fourth," Roysland said.
But it wasn't to be. Carpenter hit a three to bring the Golden Eagles within four, but Bemidji State quickly went on a 9-0 run to take a 70-57 lead. Over the final eight minutes, UMC managed just two field goals.
One of them, though, came from senior guard Ashley Freund, playing in her final college game. While it came with just two minutes to play in a 15-point game, it was still a silver lining: Roysland was able to let Freund and Jennifer Lax, another senior, finish their careers on the court. (Abby Guidinger, UMC's third senior, did not play due to a foot injury.)
"They've been great ambassadors, great teammates, and great players and it's always nice to see them get a couple minutes," Roysland said. "I was really happy to see Ashley knock down that shot at the end there. I'm real appreciative of all they've done for the program."
When it was all over, Roysland came back to situation more than anything else. In a 16-game season that never felt certain, even as it was going on, the Golden Eagles were one of just three NSIC teams to go the entire season without a game being cancelled.
"Our kids did a great job of doing everything that we could so we were able to play every game," Roysland said. "They were all in, and obviously it showed in how they tried to quarantine up and do all the appropriate things. I was real thankful for administration allowing all the tests to give us an opportunity."
Minnesota Crookston 18-12-24-11—65
Bemidji State 23-19-17-20—79
MINNESOTA CROOKSTON STATS
- Points: Emma Carpenter 15, Jes Mertens 14, Bren Fox 13, Kylie Post 7
- Rebounds: Bren Fox 8, Jes Mertens 4, Mary Burke 4
- Assists: Kylie Post 3, Alyssa Peterson 2
- Steals: Jes Mertens 3
- Blocks: Julia Peplinski 1
- Team: 21-52 field goals, 7-16 3-pointers, 16-18 free throws
BEMIDJI STATE STATS
- Points: Trinity Myer 18, Rachel Heittola 14, Sydney Zerr 12, Brooklyn Bachmann 11
- Rebounds: Rachel Heittola 8, Trinity Myer 5
- Assists: Trinity Myer 7, Brooklyn Bachmann 6
- Steals: several with 1
- Blocks: Rachel Heittola 2
- Team: 26-48 field goals, 10-26 3-pointers, 17-20 free throws
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