ABERDEEN, S.D. — Too much Parker Fox proved too much for Minnesota State Moorhead on Friday night at Wachs Arena.
The Northern State junior poured in 39 points to lead No. 2-ranked Northern State to a 90-83 victory against the Dragons in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men's basketball before a crowd of 1,492 fans.
The Wolves (15-0, 13-0 North) clinched the North Division championship, snapping MSUM's eight-game winning streak. The Dragons (8-3, 8-1) needed to sweep Northern State this weekend to win the North title. MSUM is the No. 2 seed from the North for the NSIC tournament.
"He's an unbelievable player, but we certainly did not help the situation," Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said. "I was very surprised with the way we executed defensively. ... We need to be better overall. When you play the No. 2 team in the country you have to play a more complete game. We were OK in spurts, but it just wasn't enough."
The Dragons close out their regular season at 4 p.m. Saturday against Northern State at Wachs.
"I was really excited about playing in a game that felt big for the first time in awhile because I knew my guys would respond to it," Northern State head coach Saul Phillips said in his postgame interview on Fox Sports Aberdeen 1420-AM. "They certainly did that tonight. They played like champions."
Fox added a game-high 16 rebounds and four blocked shots to go along with his game-high point total that was also his career high. The 6-foot-8 Fox shot 67% (16 of 24) from the field.
"We've just got to do a better job of not letting him get to his spots," said Dragons guard Bryce Irsfeld, who had 14 points and four rebounds. "He's really good at what he does and that's why a lot of teams struggle with him. It comes down to maybe we were trying to finesse it a little bit too much where we just have to go out there and be aggressive."
Fox started strong, scoring 15 of Northern State's first 19 points. He capped that early scoring spree with a layup that gave the Wolves a 19-14 lead with 11:47 to play in the first half. That Fox layup also capped a 12-0 run for Northern State.
The Wolves never trailed after that scoring surge.
"It's a hard test anyway, but we did not defend the way we needed to defend. It wasn't even close," Walthall said. "When you are playing a team that talented you have to complete defensive possessions."
Fox had a big first half with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor. He also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots in the opening 20 minutes to help the Wolves build a 45-33 halftime lead. Northern State shot 58% (19 of 33) from the floor in the opening half, while the Dragons were 38% (12 of 32) from the field.
"Against a team like that, you're going to get mauled pretty quick if you don't execute (defensively) to a T," Walthall said.
The Dragons made a late charge, cutting the Northern State lead to 87-81 after a Reid Gastner layup with 58 seconds remaining. The Wolves countered with the next three points and took a 90-81 lead after Mason Stark sank two free throws with 22 seconds remaining.
"We kept scoring, but we just couldn't get critical stops," Walthall said. "They played more aggressive and more physical and that was the main difference."
The Dragons were balanced on offense with four players scoring in double digits. Gatdoar Kueth led the way with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor. Kueth scored 11 points in the first half with nine of those coming in the first five minutes.
MSUM took a 14-7 lead after Kueth scored on a short-range shot with 15:17 to play in the first half. The Wolves countered with the aforementioned 12-0 run that proved to be a key momentum swing. Irsfeld said it's difficult to try to reel in a team like Northern State once it builds a lead.
"It's a huge challenge because they're No. 2 in the nation for a reason," Irsfeld said. "They're really good at what they do. Their players play well in their system. They don't really turn the ball over."
MSUM (8-3, 8-1 North): McGhee 2-12 5-5 9, Baumgartner 4-9 3-4 13, Irsfeld 3-9 6-8 14, Zimmer 5-13 3-4 14, Kueth 6-9 2-2 15, Myren 2-3 2-2 6, Sem 1-1 0-0 2, Gastner 1-1 0-0 2, Rund 0-0 0-0 0, Sevlie 3-6 1-6 8, Bergh 0-0 0-0 0, Beeninga 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 22-31 83.
NSU (15-0, 13-0): Chatman 6-11 0-0 13, Stark 5-13 2-2 12, Belka 1-2 0-0 3, Fox 16-24 7-13 39, Kallman 5-7 0-0 12, Dominovic 3-7 0-0 7, Reede 0-0 0-0 0, Bergan 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 37-66 11-17 90.
Half: NSU 45, MSUM 33. 3-point goals: MSUM 7-18 (McGhee 0-1, Baumgartner 2-5, Irsfeld 2-5, Zimmer 1-4, Kueth 1-1, Sevlie 1-1, Beeninga 0-1), NSU 5-11 (Chatman 1-3, Stark 0-1, Belka 1-1, Fox 0-1, Kallman 2-3, Dominovic 1-2). Total fouls: 18, NSU 23. Fouled out: Belka. Rebounds: MSUM 35 (Zimmer 7), NSU 40 (Fox 16). Assists: MSUM 12 (Baumgartner 4), NSU 18 (Stark 9). Turnovers: MSUM 7 (McGhee 3), NSU 8 (Fox 4).