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Northern State men's basketball dream season continues with win over Minnesota State

American News, Aberdeen, S.D. — Cuyler Meade American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

March 14--This is what history feels like.

For the Northern State men's basketball team, every step they take now belongs on the front page of the tale of this already-storied men's program.

As of Tuesday night, when the Wolves beat Minnesota State 90-83 in the Central Region tournament final, Northern's men have now won as many games as any men's program ever has. Thirty-four wins matches the 1992-93 team's mark.

With the victory, the Wolves advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, which will be played much closer to Aberdeen than to the home of any other remaining team -- at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, where the Wolves just recently won their conference tournament.

"Honestly, it's probably more surreal than anything else right now," Wolves head coach Paul Sather said after the game. "I don't know if it's sunk in. I'm really happy for these players, really happy for our guys, staff, everybody who puts a lot of work and time in. You've got a pretty veteran group of older guys that put a lot of time in, from recovery and rehab to time in the gym, and I'm really happy for those guys."

They've made it to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.

The game itself was appropriately tightly contested. Coming out of a halftime break wherein the Wolves led by just a point, Northern and Minnesota State traded buckets and leads for much of the early second half before the Wolves managed to finally gain a cushion of more than a single possession with just under 3 minutes to play. While the Mavericks never went away, Northern managed to ride out the final ticks with timely rebounding and effective free-throw shooting.

If the game ever went on ice, it might have been when D.J. Pollard, who had a phenomenal complete game including 19 points, laid a huge block on Mavericks guard Charlie Brown with 33 seconds left and the Wolves up just five points. It led to an Ian Smith free throw and a Bo Fries offensive board, at which point the Mavericks tires were officially out of traction.

"Our guys don't give up," Sather said. "They keep fighting, solving problems, being a team, and they compete. There was probably no two bigger plays than the offensive board Bo Fries got, and then Carter (Evans) rebounding on his own miss. Those were two huge plays. We were able to run the clock from almost 3 minutes to a minute and a half where (the Mavericks) didn't touch the ball."

Ian Smith led the Wolves with 22 points and also won regional tournament most valuable player, but rightly said that the recognition could've been sent several different directions.

"Anybody on this team could've got that award," Smith said at a postgame press conference. "We've had a balanced attack all year. It means a lot, don't get me wrong, it's special, but that could've gone to anyone of these guys up here (referring to teammates Darin Peterka, Logan Doyle and Evans) or some of the guys in the locker room."

That statement, true in every game, was never more true than Tuesday. Doyle scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Pollard had 19 points to go with four boards. Peterka chipped in 12 with five boards and a team-high six assists. Evans added 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

"You go through it, not just points, everybody has rebounds, everybody forced turnovers," Sather said. "You shoot almost 59 percent against this long, lanky, athletic Mankato team that has held some teams under 50 percent this tournament. These guys get that credit. They made the plays."

The Wolves had to fight through a hurky-jerky, tightly officiated game in which 45 total personal fouls were called. Several starters spent longer stretches on the bench than they normally would in the first half as a result, but the Wolves went to their depth, pulling in Andrew Kallman and Justin Decker for significant contributions off the bench, not to mention the typically stalwart additions of Doyle and Fries.

For seniors Evans, Peterka, Doyle and Pollard, the magical ride continues for at least one more game.

"It's the culmination," Evans said. "We're not done yet, but it's good to see that the work pays off. Those long days in the training room, the long practices, preseason, postseason, it's great seeing that all come to this."

The 34-3 Wolves have proven they belong in the conversation with the best teams in Division II, and now get nigh-home-court advantage in the Elite Eight at the Sanford Pentagon.

"It is fun," Sather said. "They've taken us on such a great ride this year. These guys have. It's been so much fun to be a part of it. Our staff I think would agree with that. We're pretty lucky to get to show up to work with these guys every day. It's their team and they're doing an unreal job making this season last as long as it can."

The national quarterfinal will begin in Sioux Falls Tuesday, where the three-seed Wolves will take on East Stroudsburg out of Pennsylvania at 8:30 p.m.

Follow @CuylerMeade_aan on Twitter.

Northern State 90

Minnesota State 83

NCAA Division II Central Region final

Bearcat Arena, Maryville, Mo.

Minnesota State (24-10): Charlie Brown 7-15 0-0 14, Kevin Krieger 5-9 2-2 13, Chris Kendrix 3-5 4-7 11, Isaac Kreuer 3-4 2-4 8, Cole Harper 3-9 0-0 7, Carlos Anderson 7-14 7-13 21, Carter Asche 2-4 0-0 6, Jamal Nixon 1-2 0-0 3, Totals 31-62 15-26 83.

Northern State (34-3): Ian Smith 7-14 4-6 22, D.J. Pollard 4-6 11-12 19, Darin Peterka 4-8 1-2 12, Carter Evans 5-7 0-2 10, Gabe King 1-3 0-0 2, Logan Doyle 7-9 7-10 21, Bo Fries 1-1 0-0 2, Andrew Kallman 1-3 0-0 2, Totals 30-51 23-32 90.

Minnesota State 42 42 -- 83

Northern State 43 47 -- 90

3-point field goals -- MSU 6-17, Brown 0-2, Krieger 1-4, Kendrix 1-2, Harper 1-3, Anderson 0-1, Asche 2-4, Nixon 1-1; NSU 7-14, Smith 4-6 Peterka 3-5, King 0-1, Kallman 0-2. Total Fouls -- MSU 26; NSU 19. Fouled out -- NSU King. Rebounds -- MSU 34, Brown 2, Krieger 3, Kendrix 12, Kreuer 3, Harper 2, Anderson 2, Asche 1, Nixon 3, Team 6; NSU 30, Smith 2, Pollard 4, Peterka 5, Evans 3, King 2, Doyle 7, Fries 3, Kallman 1, Team 3. Assists -- MSU 10, Brown 1, Krieger 1, Kendrix 1, Harper 3, Anderson 2, Asche 1; NSU 12, Smith 2, Peterka 6, Evans 1, Doyle 2, Fries 1. Turnovers -- MSU 8; NSU 10. Steals -- MSU 6, Kreiger 1, Kendrix 2, Harper 1, Anderson 1, Nixon 1; NSU 4, Smith 2, Peterka 2. Blocks -- MSU 3, Krieger 1, Kendrix 1, Asche 1; NSU 5, Smith 1, Pollard 1, Evans 1, Doyle 1, Fries 1. Technical Fouls -- none.


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