Beavers drop heartbreaker

The Minot State University men’s basketball team certainly had its chances Friday.

A chance to expand a double-digit, second-half lead and never be threatened by Wayne State.

A chance to score the game-winning basket at the end of regulation.

A chance to knock down game-tying free throws in the final second of overtime after the Wildcats committed a basketball no-no – fouling a 3-point shooter.

The Beavers squandered all of those opportunities and left the MSU Dome with a heartbreaking 74-70 loss to Wayne State in front of 878 fans who braved wintry conditions to see some Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action.

With the Beavers trailing 72-69, MSU sophomore Dominique McDonald missed his first free throw after being fouled on a 3-point attempt from the left wing with 0.9 seconds left. He made the second one, then missed the third one on purpose but MSU was whistled for a lane violation to ultimately end the game.

McDonald’s miss was the most glaring but the Beavers (6-5 overall, 2-5 NSIC) struggled at the line all night, connecting on just 22 of 37 attempts.

“The last 10 minutes of the game we didn’t execute very well on either end, especially the offensive end,” MSU coach Matt Murken said. “When we did execute it was a back-breaker missing those free throws. We had three guys miss free throws in the last few minutes of regulation and if one of those guys makes one more free throw that gives us enough to escape with a victory in regulation.”

For a while, it looked like MSU would cruise to the win. The Beavers led 60-50 with 7:43 left after trailing by one at halftime.

“I thought we started off the game pretty well,” Murken said. “We built up a bit of a cushion and a bit of lead but then we stopped playing team defense and we stopped making things easy for each other for a while there on the offensive end. Second half, we came out defensively focused and did a nice job taking them out of their game a little bit.”

The Wildcats (5-6, 2-5) went on an 11-3 run to get back in it after the Beavers took their double-digit lead and finally pulled even on a designed play out of a timeout.

WSC freshman Joel Heesch faked a handoff at the top of the key and drove uncontested down the lane for the tying layup with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation.

Wildcats coach Brian Dolan said he planned for the fake handoff and had a shooter set up in the corner in case the Beavers helped.

“He made a great play as a freshman,” Dolan said of Heesch, who finished with 13 points to lead four Wildcats in double figures. “He sold the fake, got to the rim and nobody was there.”

MSU senior E.J. Williams drove the length of the court after the ensuing inbounds, but missed a runner at the buzzer.

MSU junior Thomas Korf knocked down a pair of free throws to open the extra period, but WSC went on a 6-0 run and held on from there.

The Wildcats shot 49 percent from the field to make up for committing 21 turnovers. The Beavers shot just 39 percent in addition to their subpar showing from the charity stripe.

“We need to finish those plays and finish at the line,” Murken said. “We missed 15 tonight and I know we can’t make them all but 15 is just too many.”

Senior forward Chris East finished with 15 points and McDonald added 14 for the Beavers, who host Augustana (8-5, 5-2) at 6 p.m. today.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar-MDN.