Hard to guard: Beaver backcourt keys victory over Duluth

With Minot State looking to push its lead to two possessions in the final minute of a game against Minnesota Duluth on Friday, Beavers coach Matt Murken drew up a simple play that had worked all night.

Junior guard E.J. Williams let the shot clock wind down, careened around a ball screen and used his quickness to get in the paint and score.

Williams’s floater with 10 seconds left capped a 62-58 MSU victory in which the Beavers made all the right plays down the stretch.

“Last few games, I struggled,” said Williams, who led the Beavers with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. “But tonight I just tried to play hard, get back in rhythm.”

After Duluth sophomore Reece Zoelle drilled a corner 3-pointer to knot the game at 58 with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining, MSU freshman Dominique McDonald put the Beavers ahead with a long step-back two late in the shot clock.

On the ensuing possession, MSU drew a charge to set up Williams’ shot that put the game out of reach.

The guards led the way for the Beavers, as Anthony Enriquez (12 points) and McDonald (11) joined Williams in double figures.

“They exploited a weakness that we’ve known we’ve had for a long time,” Duluth coach Matt Bowen said. “We just really struggle to stay in front of athletic guards. … E.J. Williams came off those ball screens, Anthony Enriquez came off those ball screens and they got into the paint. It seems like when they didn’t throw up something that went in, they got the rebound.”

The Bulldogs (5-13 overall, 3-10 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) led 32-29 at the break after Jake Hottenstine scored 20 of his game-high 23 points in the opening half.

“He made some tough shots but we allowed him to catch and drive without seeing jerseys in front of him,” Murken said. “The second half, when he finally did get a touch and put it on the floor, there was always one or two guys waiting for him. We forced him into a couple forced shots and turnovers, whereas in the first half … he got them the lead singlehandedly.”

Hottenstine never found the same rhythm in the second half as he got into foul trouble and was eventually eliminated from the game.

Brett Ervin, Duluth’s 6-foot-7 post, scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half – but it wasn’t enough to offset MSU’s trio of guards.

Williams, Enriquez and McDonald scored 23 of the Beavers’ 33 points after the break, and Adam Randall knocked down a 3 from the left corner to tie the game at 50 with 5:41 left.

“We thought we could get to the rim a little bit if we spaced the floor and moved the ball,” Murken said. “At times, the ball got stuck in our hands a little bit, and when we do that we’re very guardable like any team. When we move it, we got some guys that can get to the rim.”

The Beavers host a pair of games against Concordia-St. Paul and No. 7 Minnesota State-Mankato next weekend.