USF Splits Entertaining Doubleheader With Winona State

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Troy Houghton drove the lane for a go-ahead jumper in the first minute of overtime and Teathlcoach Pal came up with two critical steals to seal USF's thrilling 87-85 overtime victory over Winona State on Saturday evening in front of a raucous home crowd at the Stewart Center.

With the win, USF (15-5, 11-3) maintains a one game lead in the NSIC South Division. The Cougars now hold an 8-7 lead in the all-time series with Winona State (11-9, 8-6 NSIC).

The Cougars salvaged the weekend split despite a Sportscenter Top 10-worthy performance from Winona State's Caleb Wagner.

The senior guard scored 47 points on-18-for-22 shooting, including 6-for-7 on three pointers and a handful of circus shots, all while committing just two turnovers. Kevion Taylor posted a double-double for the Warriors, finishing with 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting and 10 rebounds.

USF senior Devin Green scored a career-high 18 points, with 12 of those coming in the second half and overtime. Trevon Adams added 18 points off the bench, Chase Grinde finished with 14 and William Lybaek chipped in 13 to round out USF's double-digit scorers.

As it has been most of the season, winning the battle of the boards was key for the Cougars. USF's standing as No. 1 in the NSIC in rebounding defense and No. 2 in rebound margin speaks to their purpose, and they have one of the league's most determined glass cleaners in junior forward Teathloach Pal.

Pal, who received his first NSIC Men's Basketball Player of the Week nod earlier this season, corralled 10 rebounds to lead USF to a 34-28 advantage on the glass.

In USF's last seven games – five of them wins – the Cougars are out-rebounding its opponents by a collective 243-210.

The Cougars trailed by as much as 11 in the first half but endured its poor showing early and produced a 25-15 run down the stretch, eventually cutting Winona State's advantage to 33-32 at the break.

The Cougars needed late heroics in regulation just to get to the extra period. Trailing 71-66 with 36 seconds left in the second half, Green drained a three-pointer and after WSU's Kevion Taylor missed from close range on the ensuing play, Houghton grabbed the crucial defensive board to set up one final shot for USF. In the closing seconds, Grinde sprinted down the court and quickly splashed the jumper to send the game to overtime, 71-71.

Green hit a pair from the charity stripe to stake USF to the early 73-71 lead in overtime. A three-pointer by Taylor put Winona State in front 74-73, but the visitor's lead did not last. Houghton drained a jumper and after Taylor was called for an offensive foul on the following possession, Green took matters into his own hands. His traditional three-point play pushed USF's lead to 78-74 with 3:22 on the clock.

It's no secret that USF has struggled at the charity stripe this season and they entered today as the worst free-throwing squad in the NSIC (69.1%).

The Cougars snapped out of the freebie funk in a big way, going a combined 18-for-21—including 7-for-8 in the final minutes—to complete the come-from-behind victory.

USF will travel to Bemidji State and Minnesota Crookston next weekend.

You might say that there are three guarantees in life; death, taxes and wild games at the Stewart Center between USF and Winona State.

The Cougars trailed just 54-53 after the third quarter and battled to a wild finish, but the Warriors (14-4, 10-4 NSIC) were in the bonus early in the third quarter and hit enough free throws down the stretch to hand USF (18-3, 11-3 NSIC) just their second-ever home loss to the Warriors.

The only other win for Winona State in the Stewart Center was a controversial one. In January 2016, the Warriors edged USF 60-59 after a technical foul was called on the Cougars bench when fans rushed the floor at the buzzer.

Senior Jessie Geer led the Cougars off the bench with 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, scoring with an array of 3s, runners, floaters, baseline drives and the occasional bank of the glass. She also finished with six rebounds, two steals and a block.

Geer led four Cougars in double figures. Kaley Hummel had 17 points, Anna Goodhope added 16 and Mariah Szymanski finished with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

Winona State forward Taylor Hustad had a significant hand in what is only USF's second home loss of the season. The 5-foot-10 junior made 9 of 18 shots for a game-high 23 points, including several transition buckets.

USF also had no answer for WSU center Emma Fee, who played with a terrific combination of strength and skill to finish with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting and went a perfect 5-for-5 at the line.

Both teams finished with 32 rebounds. USF held a slight 14-13 edge in points off turnovers. The Cougar bench accounted for 21 points.

The Warriors hit first with a 9-2 run to open the game, but the Cougars started hitting close-range jumpers and crashing the glass. The two teams battled back and forth through the entire first half and Winona State carried a 36-35 lead into halftime.
Down eight points in the third quarter and close to getting run out of their building, USF head coach Travis Traphagen didn't panic. His eleventh-ranked Cougars wouldn't let him, and the senior trio of Hummel, Geer and Szymanski keyed the Cougars to a 12-5 run to trim WSU's lead to 54-53 at the end of the frame.

Anna Goodhope next picked up the slack, scoring seven fourth quarter points to keep the Cougars in the game. At the 4:50 mark, the junior forward picked a Warrior pocket and raced ahead to receive the pass from Hummel for the bucket and the foul, cutting the WSU lead to 64-60.

It was a free throw fest for the Warriors in the final minutes, and they took advantage to push the lead back to seven at 74-67 with only 48 seconds to go.

That's when things got interesting, with the Cougars digging deep for an 8-2 run that was capped by an acrobatic Greer layup to make it a 76-75 game with eight seconds left.

A pair of free throws from Hustad put the Warriors in front 78-75 with four seconds on the clock.

Winona State fouled immediately to prevent any long-range heroics from USF, the best three-point shooting team (37.9%) in the conference. Syzmanski made the first and intentionally missed the second and the Warriors got the rebound, but the ball came loose and rolled under the hoop. Szymanski collected it and tossed a last-chance jumper but the buzzer sounded before it left her hand.

The Warriors now lead the all-time series with USF, 6-9. The loss snapped USF's nine-game winning streak and trimmed their lead in NSIC South to a single game.

USF travels to Bemidji State and Minnesota Crookston next weekend.