Men’s basketball dominates Sioux Falls, claim share of NSIC division title

Nate Bope, Staff Writer

The Wayne State College men’s basketball defeated the University of Sioux Falls Cougars 80-53 on Thursday in the second to last game of the season to clinch a top two spot in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament.  

The Wildcats fell short against the Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs, but with other results around the conference, it was enough for the Wildcats to earn the number one overall spot out of the NSIC South division. The Wildcats finished the regular season 18-10 and 13-9 in conference play. 

“I feel confident speaking for the group when I say the best thing about the accomplishment is the better position to win the conference tournament and make the national tournament,” sophomore guard Jay Saunders said. 

 Entering Thursday, the Wildcats and Cougars were the top two teams in the NSIC south division. The winner of this contest was guaranteed at least a top two seed in the conference tournament. 

The game started off as many expected, a back-and-forth contest that saw the teams trading scores. The Wildcats held a 10-9 lead at the under-15-minute timeout. Things quickly changed, however. The Wildcats fired off several huge scoring runs through the rest of the first half.  

They had a 9-0 run to make the score 19-9 with 12 minutes to play in the half. Then after some points changed hands, the Wildcats rattled off a 14-2 run over four minutes to put the Wildcat advantage at 23, 37-14. The Cougars cut into the lead before halftime, but it was still a huge advantage for the Wildcats, 41-22. 

WSC and Division II star Jordan Janssen injured his left foot with five seconds to play in the first half. He did not initially come back out of the locker room for halftime warmups. Janssen did return to the bench midway through the second half with a walking boot on his left foot. He did not return to the court for the rest of the game. 

“Without Jordan, we obviously have to play a little different,” fifth-year senior guard Nate Mohr said. “We set more ball screens and let our grades create.” 

Even without their star player, the Wildcats handled business in the second half. Early in the second half, the Wildcats tacked on another impressive 12-0 run to put the WSC advantage at 32, 60-28. The lead ballooned to as many as 35 during the contest and the Wildcats roared their way to an emphatic 80-53 win to clinch a top two spot in the conference tournament.  

Leading the way for WSC was sophomore forward Cody McCullough, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Behind him were sophomore guard Justin Eagins with 16 points and Mohr with 10 points. The injured Janssen would finish with 14 points in only 17 minutes of game time.  

Saturday’s regular season finale would not turn out the same way, however. At the first media timeout, the Mustangs held an 11-9 lead. With 8:09 left on the clock, the Wildcats would battle to tie the game at 19 after a couple of lead changes. The Mustangs took over the rest of the half. They exploded on a 12-1 run over the next three minutes, giving them an 11-point advantage, 31-20. The Wildcats cut into the lead but trailed at halftime 33-26.  

The Wildcats opened the second half on a 9-4 scoring run to cut the Mustangs lead to two, 37-35. That is as close as the Wildcats came to taking the lead. The two sides traded scoring runs for much of the second half. With 8:36 left to go, the Mustangs led 48-43, with the game still within reach for WSC, until the Mustangs extended the lead to 11 on two separate occasions to put the game out of reach. The game finished with the Mustangs taking home the victory, 67-54. 

Fifth-year senior guard Nick Ferrarini led the Wildcats after a hot shooting performance. He had 25 points on 10-15 shooting, including making three 3-pointers. Saunders was the only other Wildcat in double figures, scoring 16. 

With the results from around the conference, WSC earned the number one overall seed out of the south division in the NSIC tournament. 

“This is where we want to be,” Mohr said. “This was the goal from day one and now it’s time for a conference championship.” 

The Wildcats are scheduled to play the winner of Bemidji State and Augustana on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. in the NSIC tournament. The game will be played in the Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.