The UMD men’s basketball team was victorious on the road against Bemidji, taking the Saturday contest against the Beavers 83-68. The Bulldogs improve to 7-2 on the year and 3-0 in NSIC play after a sweep of their slate of opponents for the week.
The game was a dead heat for the first six minutes and change. A stretch of 27 seconds from 17:18 to 16:51 where the lead changed a total of three times is a pretty good encapsulation of these early stages. It would take until exactly the 14-minute mark for UMD to take what was the first two-possession lead of the game at that point at a score of 15-11. The Bulldogs would add an Austin Andrews layup to that tally to improve their lead to 17-11. The Beavers would work to bring things back within a score at 17-15 UMD, but the Bulldogs would re-up to make it 21-15 with 10:58 left in the half.
Bemidji wouldn’t be denied their second time around.
It took the Beavers just 1:34 to go on a 7-0 run and level the score at 21 a pop. Standout Bemidji forward John Sutherland scored the last four points in that stretch off of two quick layups. The Beavers were eventually able to parlay this into a 31-27 lead of their own with just 4:24 left in the frame, meaning that dating back to that 21-15 deficit, they were on a 16-6 hotstreak.
What the Bulldogs’ counterpunch lacked in size, it gained in scope. A 7-3 UMD run to close out the first half allowed them to go into the break with a 34-33 lead.
The story of what was a tight first frame for the Bulldogs had a few key chapters. One of those would be centered around the team’s free-throw shooting. UMD was nearly automatic from the line through 20 minutes, going 8-9 (88.9%). As the score indicates, they ended up needing every one of those makes to have momentum going into the break. Perhaps a fitting follow-up would be a centerpiece on Charlie Katona, who scored six of his team-leading 14 points in the frame from the Charity stripe, only missing one attempt in the process. The junior forward paired this with 4-7 (57.4%) shooting from the field. Katona also had a team-leading five rebounds in the half, not to mention a team-high two steals. Speaking of takeaways, UMD closed with five of those as a team compared to Bemidji’s one. That single Beaver Steal came sandwiched between two UMD steals in a 10-second span from 1:18-1:08.
The early goings of the second half were locked in a predictable cadence. The Bulldogs would jump out to a multi-possession lead only for the Beavers to claw right back to within a score. Even after UMD’s lead ballooned up to as high as eight at a score of 52-44 off of a Joshua Strong three with 14:17 left to play, the Beavers didn’t quit. Soon enough, it was 54-52, and Bemidji was riding high off of an 8-2 run. For a little while afterwards, the Beavers were oh-so close. At the 8:54 mark, it was still just 58-56 UMD. Ten seconds later, that turned into 60-56. Oh well, nothing the Beavers weren’t familiar with. A four-point lead turned to six points at 62-56 Bulldogs. By the 7:09 mark, the score read 64-56, and the Bulldogs had re-established their grip. The Beavers got stuck in the mud at 56 for a minute and changed too long.
For the rest of the way, the Bulldogs held control. They’d have to Survive a bit of scare when a 13-point advantage at a score of 70-57 diminished into a 74-68 affair with 2:35 remaining off of an 11-4 Beavers run. What better way for UMD to respond than with being automatic from the line. Two Katona makes at the Charity stripe were followed by two more from Blair, and just like that, the Bulldogs were up double-digits once again at 78-68 with just 1:46 left. There’d be no miraculous home-court comeback. The Bulldogs would seal the deal with five more points to close the game on a 9-0 stretch and take it 83-68.
UMD ran a tight ship in the second half, with just seven Bulldogs seeing action. It sure paid off- three of them had double figures in the frame. Katona continued to produce, scoring 11 more points on 4-5 shooting. He didn’t stop swiping either- he added three more steals to his name along the way. Four more rebounds, too. Blair was next up with 13 points on 3-5 shooting. Finally, there was Joshua Strong. In his second consecutive start, the sophomore guard led his team down the stretch. They had 14 points on 4-6 shooting. He was a whopping 3-4 from beyond the arc.
As a team, UMD enjoyed a pretty healthy shooting effort in the second frame. The Bulldogs went 14-24 (58.3%) from the field and 4-7 (57.1%) from three. Their sharp shooting from the line continued, as they went 15-18 (83.3%) from the stripe.
What a night it was for Katona. The forward closed with 24 total points on 8-12 (66.7%) shooting from the field and 9-11 (81.8%) from the line. He was just one rebound shy of a double-double with nine, but something says he’ll take the five steals he had instead. Blair also crossed the 20-point line on 5-11 (45.5%) shooting and a perfect 8-8 effort from the line. As a team, UMD went 23-27 (85.2%) from the stripe throughout the contest.
Bemidji was led by a 21 point outing on 8-15 (53.3%) shooting from fifth-year guard Mohamed Kone. Kone went 4-7 from three. Dalton Albrecht led the team with seven boards. As a group, Bemidji shot just six free-throws, making four of them.
WORDS FROM WIECK
UMD put on a formidable performance in the first frame and closed it out strong, but the Beavers were still right within reach going into the break. In situations like this, it’s a wonder what a little change- or in some cases, no change at all- can do. Just ask UMD head coach Justin Wieck.
“I thought we played pretty solid in the first half,” Wieck said. “Missed a ton of open, good 3’s. Told them to keep shooting. Defensively, we changed a Matchup and changed a ball screen defense coverage. Our guys did a great job executing.”
It’s particularly easy to see the fruits of Wieck’s decision to instill trust in his team’s shooting abilities on the stats sheet. UMD went from 2-10 from beyond the arc in the first half to 4-7 in the second.
Another major facet of UMD’s formula for execution was a Massive night from the Charity stripe all night long. To Wieck, this was the culmination of season-long work the Bulldogs have put into that arena.
“We’ve been drawing a ton of fouls and shooting a ton of FT’s all year,” Wieck said. “With our forwards posting and attacking the rim, that’s become a huge part of our offense. Making 85% was a big lift for us.”
Then, of course, there’s Katona.
No conversation about this game would be complete without highlighting the junior forward. Who better to hand the mic for a final comment on his effort than Wieck, who made note of more than just the Offensive production.
“Katona has been fantastic all year,” Wieck said. “Tonight might have been his best. His defensive effort on Sutherland in the 2nd half was great. And he’s figuring out ways to dominate on the Offensive end. It’s fun to watch him compete how he does.”