Beavers gear up for tougher conference slate

The Minot State University basketball teams are both 4-0 for the first time in school history, but their real tests begin today.

After beating up on mostly NAIA opponents during a favorable nonconference schedule, the Beavers open their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference slate with a doubleheader against in-state rival University of Mary. The women play at 4 p.m., followed by the men at approximately 6 p.m.

“We’ve done what we’ve had to do for the nonconference stuff,” MSU men’s coach Matt Murken said. “Now all those things are magnified even more. … Hopefully we’ll see an increase in our focus and our intensity knowing that we’re gonna start playing better teams on a night-in, night-out basis. Those first ones are important, but now with each win, everything gets more important.”

Both MSU squads have held edges in size and athleticism through their first four games, but they’ll be competing solely against Division II teams for the rest of the season. Those physical advantages will either be less pronounced or gone altogether.

“Our challenge now is to eliminate the lulls in productivity on either end,” Murken said. “We’ve been able to get away with playing a majority of good basketball. We need to make sure when we get in league, you can’t play five good minutes and just be out there for two minutes and lose focus or not execute.”

The Mary men’s team (2-3) is composed of mostly newcomers, but returning seniors Jalen Jaspers (11 points per game) and Marc Musungayi (12.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are the Marauders’ top two scorers. Jaspers is a physical 6-foot-3 guard and Musungayi is an athletic 6-6 post player who shot 56.5 percent from the field last season.

“They’ve got 10 or 12 new guys and they’re still getting comfortable playing together, but really, overall they’ve increased their talent level from where they were at last year,” Murken said. “They’ve been doing a nice job of rebounding, they’ve been doing a good job of getting in transition and attacking the basket, so those are things we’ve gotta make sure we’re ready to defend on Saturday night.”

The teams split two matchups last season, with each winning at home.

On the women’s side, a colossal interior battle can be expected. Marauders senior Linda Murray, a 6-2 forward, is averaging team highs of 20.7 points and 9.0 rebounds. She was an all-conference selection two years ago before sitting out last season with an injury.

Likewise, a 6-2 senior post – Carly Boag – leads the Beavers with 24 points and 11.3 boards per contest. MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said Murray is the focal point, but the Marauders (2-1) have plenty of other weapons. Senior point guard Lindsey Sand tallies 11.7 points and 6.0 assists per outing, and 5-10 sophomore wing Brittney Dietz averages 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.

“(Murray is) really good around the basket and strong and physical, so it’s really important that we try to limit her touches,” Green Gerding said. “Every position, they always have some kids on the court that can score.”

Boag had 31 points in the Beavers’ NSIC opener last season, a 74-73 win at Mary. The Marauders limited her to 16 in a 70-58 Mary victory in Minot later in the season.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics.

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