USF Sweeps Sensational Twin Basketball Bill From Northern State

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With first place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference at stake, (RV) University of Sioux Falls Men's Basketball Team (18-5, 14-3 NSIC) made clutch shots on offense and defended to lift the Cougars to a 68-61 win over (RV) Northern State (17-6, 13-4 NSIC on Friday (Feb. 7) at the Stewart Center. With the win, USF ended an 11-game slide to NSU, which dates back to the 2002-03 season.

The victory helped USF improve to a DII-program best 18-5 record with its 14-3 mark in league play also the best mark in the DII area through 17 games. And, by defeating North Division leader NSU, USF took over the overall NSIC lead by a game with five to play. Additionally, they also own a three-game advantage in the NSIC South after Upper Iowa (11-6) fell at Upper Iowa, 85-71.

"We really guarded tonight. We made them earn their points and kept them off the foul line while keeping them from hitting a bunch of threes," said USF Head Coach Chris Johnson, whose team held NSU to 21 points below its league-leading points per game average (82.0). "We shot it well in the second half and Troy Houghton played the best game he has ever played here. Jack (Thompson) really defended and came up big for us with clutch shots and free throws. But I thought everyone that played for us was locked in and did a great job," said Johnson, whose team will host MSU Moorhead on Saturday at 5:30 pm at the SC.

To Johnson's point, playing pivotal roles in the USF victory was freshman guard Jack Thompson, who had a team-high 18 points, including a career-high 10-of-10 from the foul line. He made six straight in the final minute. Sophomore guard Troy Houghton had career-highs in points with 16 and rebounds with seven while adding three assists and a blocked shot.

USF had four players double digits for the 11th time – all victories. Joining Houghton and Thompson was sophomore guard Chase Grinde with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists while junior forward Teathloach Pal had 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.

USF strength for much of the season has been the play inside the paint and it was a factor in the win over NSU. The Cougars had a 32-to-22 edge in points in the paint. And with a 31-to-24 margin in rebounds, USF was able to hold a 14-to-4 margin in second chance points. In addition, USF forced NSU into 16 turnovers which resulted in a 20-15 margin in points off turnovers.

Down the stretch, the Cougars made plays, including a three from Troy Houghton as the clock was winding down with 1:58 to play for a 58-54 lead. And, the Cougars forced two turnovers on NSU in the final minute as the game was still up for grabs. Plus, USF, which was 17-of-21 (81.0 percent) from the free throw line on the night, hit their last nine straight free throws. Given that USF ranked 14th in the league in foul shooting at 69.5 percent, the performance at the line was critical to the win.

After opening with a 7-0 spurt, USF and NSU played to a near-even first half. NSU took a 28-26 lead to the break with a late 12-5 run. In the second half, USF, which was 13-of-23 for 56.5 percent in the second half, held a 42-33 margin in the second 20 minutes to secure the victory.

USF has been a solid second half team all season. In conference play, USF is shooting more than six percentage points higher in the second half (49.4 percentage) than the first half (43.2 percent).

Overall, USF hit on 23-of-49 field goals for 46.9 percent and made 5-of-9 from three-point range. Meanwhile, NSU, which was 14-of-26 for 53.8 percent in the second half, finished 23-of-50 for 36 percent and knocked in 6-of-16 from 3-point range as well as 9-of-11 from the foul line. The Wolves were led by Gabe King with 19 points while Cole Dahl had 12 off the bench. NSU's Parker Fox, who was averaging 20.9 ppg, was held to nine points and five rebounds before fouling out.

Scoring Summary
Early in the first half, Grinde hit a three and the Cougars scored the first seven points to take a 7-2 lead over NSU five minutes into the game. When USF's Trevon Adams hit a three with his only shot of the game, the Cougars had a 10-2 lead (14:38).

A little later, Houghton connected on a jumper as the Cougars held a 11-6 margin with 12:25 to play in the opening half. USF extended the lead to 21-16 on a Grinde basket at the 7:05 mark. Then, NSU made its run. Over the final seven minutes of the half, they outscored USF, 12-5, to take a 28-26 lead to halftime. NSU scored the go-ahead basket on Dahl's jumper with 1:40 on the first half clock.

In the first half, both teams struggled shooting as USF was 10-of-26 for 38.5 percent while NSU was 9-of-24 for 37.5 percent. Dahl and Fox each led NSU with seven points. Grinde had seven to lead USF, which held a 14-8 mark in the paint in the opening half.

After the break, USF opened fast as it had in the opening minutes of the game. USF had a 9-4 run to lead 35-32 with 14:52 to play when Thompson hit a triple. For most of the second half, USF continued to stave off the visitors which drew within 38-37 with 11:40 to play. After NSU crawled within one, the Cougars had an 8-0 run with baskets from Grinde, Austin Slater, Pal and two Thompson foul shots for a 46-37 advantage with 9:59 to play.

But in what would prove to be a back-and-forth affair between division leaders, NSU drew within 48-45 on a three from King at the 7:54 mark. Once again, USF responded when Pal scored inside and Slater made a foul shot for a 51-45 margin. Again, NSU rallied as King's three at the 5:01 mark cut USF's lead to 53-52.

USF continued to maintain a slim lead until Houghton scored inside at the 1:02 mark and Grinde hit a pair of foul shots for a 62-56 advantage with 48 seconds left.

Dahl cut the deficit in half by connecting on a three with 39 seconds left as NSU trailed just 64-61. But the home-standing Cougars staved off NSU by critical defensive players and converting four straight foul shots in the final 30 seconds to earn their first win over NSU as a member of the NSIC.

Balanced scoring and resilient play in the fourth quarter helped the No. 13 University of Sioux Falls Women's Basketball Team (21-3, 14-3 NSIC) rally to defeat Northern State (12-11, 8-9 NSIC) in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference cross divisional matchup on Friday night (Feb. 7) at the Stewart Center.

Led by 14 points from senior Mariah Szymanski, who now has 1,071 career points, the Cougars maintained a three-game lead at the top of the NSIC South. USF has a 14-3 record in the NSIC, which is a DII program-best start through 17 league games. At 21-3, the Cougars also have recorded its best start overall.

"We won but give NSU a lot of credit. They played with a lot of energy and I thought we came out flat," said USF Head Women's Basketball Coach Travis Traphagen, who earned his 238th career win. "We found a way for five or six minutes to get back into the game and then convert some plays late to pick up the win. Still, It was great to get a win when perhaps we weren't at our best," added Traphagen, whose team will be back at the Stewart Center on Saturday (Feb. 8) to host MSU Moorhead, which is 11-6 in league and 16-8 overall.

Szymanski, who hit 4-of-9 field goals and made five foul shots with three assists and two steals, led the way for USF. However, senior Kaely Hummel finished with 13 points, three steals and two rebounds for USF. As a result, she now has 1,605 points and with another three has 255 in her career or four from all-time leader Laura Johnson with 259. Also reaching double-digits in points was Jessie Geer, who hit 5-of-11 field goals, and junior forward Anna Goodhope with 10 points.
USF, which trailed by 12 points (41-29) with 7:58 to play in the third quarter, outscored NSU, 17-10 in the fourth quarter and 36-31 in the second half to earn their 21st victory.

USF was hurt by its shooting as they hit just 22-of-52 for 41.5 percent. However, they were able to make 7-of-18 from three for 38.9 percent. The Cougars had 18 points off turnovers and outscored NSU, 19-to-7 in fast break points. But the Cougars were hurt by rebounds as the Wolves held a 34-to-23 advantage. Crucial to USF's win was defense as they forced NSU into 24 turnovers which included 12 steals. USF now has eight games this season with double-digit totals in steals.
NSU, which hit 22-of-50 shots for 44 percent, also shined at the foul line with 11 conversions in 13 attempts. The Wolves were led in scoring by Alayna Johnson, who had 13 points off the bench. Brianna Kusler had seven points, five assists and 11 rebounds for NSU.

Game Scoring Recap –
In first half, each team won a quarter with NSU holding a 30-29 lead over the Cougars at the halftime break. USF, which hit just 11-of-32 field goals for 34.4 percent in the first half, was led by Szymanski with nine points. USF made 2-of-6 from three and all three of his foul shots but was outrebounded 19-7. The Cougars forced the Wolves into 16 turnovers while committing just six to offset the rebound disadvantage.

Geer opened the scoring with a layup at the 6:34 mark for a 2-0 lead. Later a three from Goodhope helped USF to a 5-2 lead (5:22) which was followed by a three from Szymanski with 3:52 to play for an 8-4 lead. Then, Hummel converted a jumper "and 1" to give USF a 13-8 lead. When Szymanski made two foul shots with 5.7 to play, the Cougars led, 15-10 at the first quarter break.

In the second quarter, USF hit just 5-of-17 shots for 29.4 percent while NSU was 8-of-11 from the floor to allow the Wolves to outscore USF, 20-14 in the quarter, and take a 30-29 halftime lead. NSU opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run and led 25-21 before the Cougars chipped away.

In the third quarter, NSU opened the second half on an 11-0 run to grab a 41-29 lead with 8:19 to play on a Shariah Smith triple. In that opening run, NSU hit 5-of-6 field goals, which included a trio of triples. After that rush, the Cougars started their comeback. Down 47-37, the Cougars, which hit 6-of-12 field goals and 2-of-6 from three, closed fast. They outscored NSU, 11-4, to cut the deficit to 51-48 at the break.

Early in the fourth quarter, Geer converted inside as USF moved within 51-50 with 9:26 to play. However, the Wolves rebounded with seven straight points for a 58-50 lead with seven minutes to play. Still, USF continued to stick with NSU as Geer's three at the 6:36 mark helped USF draw within five at 58-53.

Then, it became Hummel time. Throughout her career, the senior, who was the NSIC Preseason Player of the Year, has found a way to put up baskets in crucial moments. She did it again against NSU. First she hit a jumper then connected on a three with 4:20 to play to tie the game. After that, Hannah Jones drew a foul and made a pair of foul shots as the Cougars took their lead since the second quarter at 60-58. Hummel hit another jumper and when she was fouled converted her second "and 1" of the game for a 63-59 lead with 2:23 to play.

NSU answered with a basket from Jesse Marti to draw within 63-61 with 2:23 to play. Neither team scored again until Szymanski's two foul shots gave USF a 65-61 lead and USF pulled into a 5-5 tie in the all-time series with NSU with its second straight win in the series between the in-state rivals.