The Bulldogs turned up the defensive heat on Minnesota Crookston in the nightcap of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s basketball back-to-back victories at historic Romano Gym on Saturday afternoon.
UMD was allowing 76 points per game, but held the Golden Eagles to 29 percent shooting (16 of 54) with a cohesive, man-to-man team defensive gem.
And while the Bulldogs were locked in defensively, freshmen starters Charlie Katona, Joshua Brown and Austin Andrews combined for 56 points.
The result was a convincing 85-45 victory for UMD in its final home game of the season — another Bulldogs’ clamp-down defensive effort and unselfish offensive outburst on the heels of an 81-65 win against Crookston Friday night, which snapped a five-game UMD losing streak.
The Bulldogs, who led 40-22 at the half, scored 38 points in the paint, and shot 33 of 56 (58.9%) and 12 of 23 (52.2%) from 3-point range.
“Our best game of the season, and that’s as good as we can play defensively,” Bulldogs coach Justin Wieck said afterward.
Andrews scored the Bulldogs’ first seven points, all in the paint, and finished with 15 points, and Katona and Brown finished with 22 and 19 points, respectively. Sharpshooter Mason Steffen added 10 points for UMD.
Wieck said Andrews “softened them up a bit early,” setting the table for the Bulldogs to get plenty of open looks from the outside.
“We’ve got some guys who can really shoot it – (Drew) Blair, Brown, (Jack) Middleton and Katona, in particular,” said Wieck. “When you can put a lot of shooters out there with a good post player, you’ve got a chance to be successful offensively.”
The Bulldogs played with a chip on their shoulders all weekend to end their losing streak and make a strong run in their final six regular season games, Wieck said.
“We challenged our guys, and they really locked in and played with an edge and a ton of intensity,” said Wieck. “We’re working to get to the next step, and it continues to be a process of ups and downs, obviously, with these young guys. We’re striving to grow up a little bit, to have the maturity to play at our best in every possession. For 60 minutes this weekend, I thought our guys did a fantastic job.”
The Bulldogs (4-5 overall, 3-5 NSIC North Division) will continue their push for an NSIC tournament berth in two-game road series remaining against Bemidji State this weekend and St. Cloud State Feb. 19-20.
UMD and St. Cloud are tied for fifth-place in the North Division, and Bemidji State is sixth (3-7). Northern State (10-0) and MSU Moorhead (6-0) are assured a spot in the four-team North Division post-season tournament. Also in the mix for a playoff spot are Minot State (4-2) and UMary (4-6).
“Three of four would put us in a good spot (to secure a playoff berth). All four would make sure we’re in,” said Wieck.
Bemidji State defeated host St. Cloud State twice over the weekend.
“It’s going to take a big-time effort for us to be successful (at Bemidji),” Wieck said matter-of-factly. “We’ll take it one game at a time and see how we end up.”