Dragons pull away from MSU

Minnesota State-Moorhead handed Minot State University its second consecutive hard-fought loss, and the Dragons beat MSU at its own game to do it.

Moorhead held advantages in made free throws and rebounds – categories MSU hadn’t lost all season – and ground out a 78-67 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference win in front of 1,278 Saturday at the MSU Dome.

The Dragons (7-0 overall, 3-0 NSIC) also outshot MSU, knocking down 42 percent of their field-goal attempts compared to 38 percent for the Beavers.

“Between rebounding and free throws and field-goal percentage, if you’re gonna lose all three of those, you’re not gonna win too many games,” MSU coach Matt Murken said. “Especially the rebounding and free throws, those are things we’ve been pretty good at, things we’ve been pretty consistent at. To get beat in both those tonight is not a good sign for us and it’s a little too much to overcome.”

The Dragons took the lead for good on a baseline jumper by Aaron Lien with 11 minutes, 12 seconds remaining. Following that score, nine of Moorhead’s next 13 points came at the free-throw line, where the Dragons finished 22-for-34. MSU twice made it a one-possession game as Moorhead repeatedly marched to the foul line, but a 6-1 spurt by the Dragons kept the Beavers at bay.

Adam Randall fouled out for MSU (5-2, 1-2), and three other players finished with four fouls. Like many other teams across the country, the Beavers are struggling to adjust to new rules that allow for less contact on defense.

“It’s a new way the officials are instructed to call the game and that’s tough for them,” Murken said. “It’s been inconsistent from game to game, and that’s been tough for the players as well. It’s probably a little frustrating for everybody at times. For the most part it’s good for us because we’ve gotten to the line and beaten teams. Tonight we were on the other side of that.”

Moorhead’s Tarell Clark was the biggest beneficiary at the charity stripe, knocking in 9 of 12 attempts en route to 11 points. Guard Prescott Williams led the Dragons with 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field. Both players gave the Beavers trouble off the dribble, using their athleticism to slash to the basket.

“We just decided to eliminate the set plays and run some of our ball-screen stuff,” Moorhead coach Chad Walthall said. “I thought we got a little better flow out of that.”

MSU junior Thomas Korf knocked in a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:13 before halftime to give the Beavers a 37-35 lead at the break. The teams traded blows for the first nine minutes of the second half before Moorhead slowly took over.

Senior forward Samuel Johnson finished with team highs of 15 points and nine rebounds for MSU, which lost the battle on the boards 44-40.

“I’m not gonna say they weren’t pretty tough inside and not give credit to their guys because that’s a good team,” Johnson said. “But we just have to play better. Simple as that.”

Murken said his team’s productivity needs to catch up to its effort.

“Physically, we’re playing hard enough, I think,” he said. “We just have to execute better on both ends than we did tonight. We still have stretches of empty possessions, either on one end or the other, that we have to eliminate – where we either don’t execute offensively or give up too easy of a basket on the other end.”

MSU senior E.J. Williams scored all 14 of his points in the second half and sophomore Dominique McDonald added 11 points, but went just 6 of 12 from the foul line.

The Beavers travel to St. Cloud State (6-1, 2-1) on Friday.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.