SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- No. 11-ranked Minnesota State Moorhead started slow and could never get back to full throttle Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Sanford Pentagon.

The Dragons fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter and were in chase mode for nearly the entire game. The University of Sioux Falls senior forward Sam Knecht scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Cougars to a 54-45 upset victory in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference women’s basketball quarterfinals before 1,478 fans.

“We couldn’t string anything together really at both ends,” Dragons head coach Karla Nelson said. “When you hold someone to 54 points, you would like to think you could score 55. It was a clunker.”

The No. 1 seed from the North Division, the Dragons (24-4) had their seven-game winning streak snapped, scoring their lowest point total this season. MSUM was ranked No. 4 in the most recent Central Region rankings. The top eight teams in the region make the Division II tournament. The selection show is scheduled for Sunday, March 5.

“Had we won, we would have given ourselves a chance to still host (the regional). That’s what makes this loss a bitter pill to swallow,” Nelson said. “We’re going to look at this week and anticipate being in the regional. All we can do is wait and prepare like we’re going to play in it.”

Sioux Falls (21-7) scored 16 of the game’s first 20 points to forge into the lead for good. The Cougars trailed only once at 2-0. Knecht scored six points during that early surge.

Sioux Falls took a 16-4 lead after senior guard Brooke Smith scored on a drive to the basket with 1 minute, 55 seconds to play in the first quarter.

The Cougars played from the lead for the final 38 minutes.

“It was a not a stellar performance by us, but I also think USF caused us to do some things we haven’t done this year,” Nelson said. “I think Sioux Falls played very aggressively on the defensive end and it caused us to rush. … We didn’t handle the ball very well. We needed to have a little bit better timing.”

The Dragons rallied in the third quarter, cutting the Sioux Falls lead to 34-32 after freshman Megan Hintz sank two free throws with 2:29 to go in the third quarter. Hintz added two more free throws to trim the Cougars lead to 39-36 with 32 seconds to go in the third. That score held heading into the final quarter.

“I thought we did a good job to start the second half,” Nelson said. “We were aggressive. We make some great cuts, great passes.”

Sioux Falls, however, scored the first 13 points in the fourth quarter to put away the Dragons. The 6-foot-2 Knecht added two inside baskets during that rally. Freshman forward Andi Mataloni capped the rally with a 3-pointer that gave the Cougars a 52-36 lead with 5:22 to remaining in the fourth quarter.

“That just broke our back,” Nelson said.

Hintz led the Dragons with 10 points, including 6-for-6 shooting from the foul line. MSUM shot 23 percent (6 of 26) from the field in the first half and 29 percent (15 of 51) for the game. The Dragons were 0-for-11 from 3-point range.

“In a big game, you need to come out with energy,” Hintz said. “You’ve got to come out fired up and ready to play and we weren’t. … The slow start that puts a damper on things right away so it’s hard to come back from that.”

USF 16 29 39 54

MSUM 7 19 36 45

USF (21-7): Knecht 11-20 3-9 25, Johnsen 3-10 2-2 10, Robson 1-10 0-0 2, Huinker 1-3 0-0 2, Hummel 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 3-3 1-2 8, Szymanski 1-4 1-2 4, Mataloni 1-3 0-0 3, Duffy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 7-15 54.

MSUM (24-4): Volkert 4-10 1-4 9, Sannes 3-14 2-2 8, Ham 4-9 0-0 8, Thorson 1-7 5-6 7, Van Wyhe 0-3 1-2 1, Hintz 2-6 6-6 10, Galegher 1-2 0-0 2, Selensky 0-0 0-0 0, Hart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-51 15-20 45.

3-point goals: USF 5-21 (Johnsen 2-7, Robson 0-3, Huinker 0-1, Hummel 0-2, Smith 1-1, Szymanski 1-4, Mataloni 1-3), MSUM 0-11 (Volkert 0-1, Sannes 0-5, Ham 0-1, Thorson 0-2, Van Wyhe 0-1, Hintz 0-1). Total fouls: USF 14, MSUM 14. Rebounds: USF 37 (Knecht 11, Huinker 11), MSUM 38 (Volkert 7, Thorson 7). Assists: USF 13 (Robson 7), MSUM 10 (Thorson 3). Steals: USF 6 (Smith 3), MSUM 3 (Volkert 2). Turnovers: USF 10 (Knecht 3, Smith 3), MSUM 13 (Volkert 3, Hintz 3). A-1,478.

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