SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Minnesota State Moorhead has an opportunity to win another Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship this season, and also accomplish a first in program history.
Dragons junior Megan Hintz tied a career high with 28 points to help lift MSUM to a 77-64 victory against Sioux Falls on Monday in the NSIC women's basketball semifinals at the Sanford Pentagon.
The Dragons, who won the overall NSIC regular-season title, are playing in the conference tournament championship game for the first time since 2007. MSUM (26-5) hasn't won an NSIC tournament crown.
"It's unbelievable," said Dragons senior Jacky Volkert, who had 17 points and six assists. "We knew we had great potential. It's just such a great opportunity and so meaningful for us."
The Dragons have won at least a share of three consecutive NSIC regular-season titles, but that success hasn't translated to success in the conference tournament in recent seasons. MSUM had lost in the league tournament quarterfinals in the three previous seasons.
The Dragons are set to play in the tournament title game, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Sanford Pentagon.
"We haven't done anything in the NSIC tournament and that's our goal this year," Hintz said.
The 6-foot-2 Hintz shot 85 percent (11 of 13) from the field en route to her game-high point total. She also grabbed 10 rebounds in 29 minutes for her 15th double-double this season.
"Megan is one of those players who overthinks things and so when you tell her to go just play basketball, and go get buckets, go play defense, she does it," Volkert said. "I absolutely love playing with her."
The Dragons led for more than 38 minutes against the Cougars and never trailed in the second half. Sioux Falls defeated MSUM 77-74 in Moorhead on Feb. 9, handing the Dragons their only home loss during the regular season. The Cougars (23-8) had their 10-game winning streak snapped.
"To beat a good USF team, they were very hot, took a great effort," Dragons head coach Karla Nelson said. "We played tough. The reason why we've lost a couple games to USF is because they played tougher."
The Dragons started to separate from Sioux Falls late in the second quarter. Hintz scored the first six points during an 8-0 run. Sophomore guard Kiley Borowicz capped the surge with a 3-pointer that gave MSUM a 34-24 lead with 1 minute, 29 seconds to play in the first half. The Dragons led 34-27 after two quarters.
Sioux Falls rallied to cut the MSUM lead to 42-39 after Jessie Geer sank a 3-pointer with 4:54 to play in the third quarter. The Dragons countered with the next seven points. Hintz scored the first four points during that key stretch. The 5-foot-7 Volkert capped the rally with a 3-pointer that gave the Dragons a 49-39 lead with 3:11 to play in the third.
"I thought they were fantastic today," Sioux Falls head coach Travis Traphagen said of the Dragons.
The Dragons carried a 53-46 edge into the fourth quarter and pushed that lead to as much as 15 points. Sioux Falls didn't get closer than seven points of the lead over the final 10 minutes.
"They were in control," Traphagen said.
The 5-foot-8 Borowicz also scored in double figures for the Dragons, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
"Everybody who was supposed to show up, showed up," Nelson said of her team's key players.
The Dragons have won seven consecutive games.
"One thing coach says all the time is 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish.' The past three years we have not finished strong," Volkert said. "That's been kind of disappointing. ... Getting to a championship game, we're finishing strong. We're playing our best basketball."
USF 10 27 46 64
MSUM 11 34 53 77
USF (23-8): Goodhope 6-12 2-2 14, Geer 4-9 0-1 9, Hummel 6-13 3-3 16, Szymanski 5-17 4-5 15, Carlson 2-5 0-0 4, Thramer 1-3 2-2 4, Mataloni 0-0 0-0 0, Mulumba 1-3 0-0 2, Dagostino 0-0 0-0 0, Slater 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-2 0-0 0, James 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-66 11-13 64.
MSUM (26-5): Volkert 6-12 3-3 17, Borowicz 7-17 0-0 16, Herbranson 1-2 0-0 2, Green 4-8 2-6 11, Hintz 11-13 6-7 28, Steichen 0-0 0-0 0, Thuringer 0-0 0-0 0, Fech 1-2 1-2 3, Schlader 0-0 0-0 0, Boom 0-1 0-0 0, Liegel 0-2 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-57 12-18 77.
3-point goals: USF 3-17 (Goodhope 0-3, Geer 1-2, Hummel 1-4, Szymanski 1-6, Sanders 0-2), MSUM 5-19 (Volkert 2-5, Borowicz 2-8, Herbranson 0-1, Green 1-1, Hintz 0-1, Fech 0-1). Total fouls: USF 17, MSUM 15. Rebounds: USF 30 (Goodhope 12), MSUM 38 (Hintz 10). Assists: USF 8 (Goodhope 5), MSUM 15 (Volkert 6). Turnovers: USF 12 (Goodhope 4), MSUM 14 (Liegel 4). A-411.