By Reece Hemmesch Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Minnesota State forced 22 turnovers and held Sioux Falls to 27 percent shooting to finish the regular-season home schedule with a 79-52 win Saturday night at Bresnan Arena.
Sioux Falls, a high-percentage shooting team from outside, connected on just 8 of 27 3-pointers as MSU’s aggressive defense forced the Cougars off their game to bring their record to 17-5, 14-4 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
“We worked a lot on defending the 3-point line and knew that was their strength coming into this game, and we did a good job of contesting, communicating, finding shooters and really forcing them to do something else,” said MSU coach Emilee Thiesse, who also believes MSU’s positive turnover margin is a continuing effort heading into the final push of the season.
“That’s just kind of been the team we are, and that’s been a huge positive for us the past three weekends,” she said. “We’ve really bought into our defensive scheme and started forcing more turnovers.”
Sioux Falls’ Laura Johnson and Taylor Varsho, the fourth and fifth best 3-point shooters in the Northern Sun, combined to go 5 of 15 from downtown, something senior Karlee Gengenbacher also attributes to the pressure defense.
“We had to get out and pressure and push them out even further than the 3-point line,” Gengenbacher said. “That pressure makes them do things they are not comfortable with, and I think that also helps turn the ball over.”
MSU’s offense was not its sharpest, as the Mavericks finished each half at a 12 of 34 clip to close at 35 percent. Thiesse understands her team struggled from the field but said the team doesn’t alter it’s game when the shots don’t fall.
“It doesn’t really change for us,” she said. “We’ve been talking about getting more points in the paint and being a more aggressive team, and when the shots aren’t falling, that’s just more of a reason to get points in the paint and get more aggressive.”
Though the team struggled offensively, the Mavericks shot 89 percent from the free-throw line, connecting on the first 16 before missing midway through the second half.
“We’ve been talking a lot about getting that margin up and converting on those free throws,” Thiesse said. “Especially in the second half, I was really proud that we could get more players involved while also drawing contact and finishing at the line.”
Gengenbacher led all MSU scorers with 21 points, going eight of 14 from the field, and adding seven rebounds. Senior Alli Hoefer also tallied 11 points while freshman Sammie Delzotto also contributed 11 off the bench.
Alli Wilkinson, the Northern Sun’s second-highest scorer, finished with 12 points after connecting on her first field goal midway through the second half. The senior scored 10 from the stripe as she and three other seniors won their final home game of the regular season.
“It’s fun to come out knowing it’s your last game and just fighting knowing that it’s your last game here,” said Hoefer, who forced the bulk of the Sioux Falls turnovers. “I really just wanted to play with a lot of heart tonight.”
“That’s always really important, to walk off the court knowing our team is where they need to be as a team and especially for our seniors,” Thiesse said. “This is a night they will remember when they think back to their senior year.”
The Mavericks head north next weekend, taking on Bemidji State on Friday and Minnesota-Crookston on Saturday.