Playoff heroics

The plan was working: let Carly Boag get her points and shut down her teammates. Upper Iowa coach Carol Russell seemed like a genius, a mastermind on the verge of upsetting Minot State – the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division No. 2 seed – on its home floor.

“If she gets 50 points, as long as we win, who gives a crap?” Russell told her bench with 15:35 to play, just as Boag scored her 31st point, pulling Minot State level at 40-all.

Surely Russell wouldn’t have given a care, crap or a rat’s behind if the final eight seconds played out differently.

Upper Iowa fell one bucket shy of shocking the Division II world, from upending the Beavers’ in their first home NSIC playoff game. Peacocks junior Whitney Kieffer had her forced, last-second shot partially blocked by MSU’s Morgan Klose and Boag corralled the rebound as the final second ticked off the clock Wednesday night at the MSU Dome.

The scoreboard read: MSU 74, Upper Iowa 73. And beside it, next to the Beavers’ No. 40: 46 points. Boag shattered the previous NSIC tournament single-game record for points (31) and bested her own school record by seven. The MSU senior forward also snared 16 rebounds and tallied five steals, five blocks and an assist for good measure.

Boag, the school’s career leader in points, rebounds and blocks, led MSU to its first NSIC tournament win since the program joined the league in 2012. She made sure that the last time she walked off the Beavers’ hardwood, it was with a smile that beamed like the sun in her native Australia.

“Absolutely not, I wasn’t going to let us (lose),” Boag said. “There were times I was a little bit doubtful, but we stuck together as a team at the end.”

The last bit of doubt arrived during a timeout with 8.0 seconds remaining, just before Kieffer took an inbounds pass, dribbled around MSU junior Christina Boag, sped the length of the floor and rammed into Klose at the right block before Carly Boag secured the ball.

“I just told them that somebody’s going to go to the basket and they’re gonna go to the basket hard,” MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. “… I thought we stood our ground pretty well and I thought we made a pretty good play at the end.”

Russell declined comment after the game, which ended the Peacocks’ season with a 5-22 record.

Before the riveting final play, Christina Boag converted a layup that induced a collective scream, then sigh, from the 913 in attendance. That followed a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Upper Iowa’s Lauren Buck that gave the visitors a 73-72 advantage with 34 seconds to play. Prior to that, MSU (18-8) hadn’t trailed since the 4:37 mark. But the Beavers lagged behind for much of the night.

“With five minutes left, we just said, ‘We got this. We just need to get stops and convert on offense,’ ” Green Gerding said. “I think we kind of did that. That’s where we turned things around.”

Outside of the final five minutes – when Carly Boag’s teammates came to her rescue after she treaded water for 35 minutes – the Beavers’ star from Down Under dazzled alone, making 18 of 23 field goals and 10 of 11 from the line.

“She was just unstoppable,” said Christina Boag, who had 12 points and a team-high five assists. “She couldn’t miss, really, so I just kept passing her the ball because I knew she would get it every time.”

Carly Boag had 24 of her team’s 30 first-half points, keeping the Beavers within four at the break. On the night, MSU shot 60 percent (27-for-45) from the field, but committed 14 of its 20 turnovers before halftime. Upper Iowa pushed its lead to 30-17 on an NBA trey by Laura TerHark with 6:25 to play.

“We just weren’t together. We couldn’t make passes,” Christina Boag said. “We were rushing everything, forcing passes. We finally calmed down and made the right passes.”

MSU remained within two possessions of the lead throughout the second half. The Beavers churned out a 10-2 run – with only four points from Carly Boag – to seize a 66-62 lead heading into the final 3:07.

“Right at the end, I thought we had other kids step up and make plays,” Green Gerding said. “We kind of broke out of it there when we needed to.”

Sam Thrapp paced the Peacocks with 20 points, followed by Kieffer’s 16 and Carly Pagel’s 10.

The Beavers advance to a quarterfinal matchup on Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D., against South Division No. 3 seed Concordia-St. Paul, which ousted Minnesota Duluth 81-72 on Wednesday. MSU nearly erased a 22-point deficit in a road game at C-SP earlier this year, but fell short, losing 68-63.

Boag’s heavy lifting secured a second crack at the Golden Bears. Christina Boay said her sister gets better and better each game. Her last two performances at the Dome have been true gems, totaling 85 points.

“I’m not really thinking about it at the moment because I’m just thinking about the win,” Carly Boag said. “At the end of the day, we just wanted the win and it was very close.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.