Northern State, Fox generate early 'swagger' to power past Dragons for NSIC men's tournament title

No. 8-ranked Northern State built a 27-point halftime lead and cruised to victory against Minnesota State Moorhead for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men's basketball tournament championship.

Minnesota State Moorhead guard Lorenzo McGhee drives to the basket against Northern State forward Parker Fox on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Bridget Larson / SPX Sports

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Northern State junior Parker Fox was a dynamo from the outset Sunday afternoon at the Sanford Pentagon and his tenacity helped the Wolves overwhelm Minnesota State Moorhead in the first half.

Fox scored 15 points in less than 13 minutes into the game to spark the Wolves to a 27-point halftime lead. No. 8-ranked Northern State was never seriously threatened after that fast start, cruising to a 78-57 victory to win the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men's basketball tournament championship.

"Parker has that energy on Monday in a practice when no one else is in the gym. Parker comes with energy," said Northern State head coach Saul Phillips, a former North Dakota State head coach. "He's our swagger and we had plenty of it today."

The Wolves (18-1) have won four consecutive NSIC tournament titles and six overall. The Dragons (10-4) have played in five NSIC title games (2003, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2021) and have yet to win a conference tournament crown. Northern State avenged its lone loss this season.

"I would say that this Moorhead team, that whipped us pretty good a couple weeks ago, gave a really good fight," Phillips said. "We might play them again. I think they're as good as anybody in our region, but our guys weren't going to be denied tonight. They took this one. They took it."


Minnesota State Moorhead guard Gavin Baumgartner elevates for a jump shot against Northern State guard Andrew Kallman on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Bridget Larson / SPX Sports

Northern State earned the automatic bid for the NSIC for the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament, which is scheduled to start March 13. The Wolves have been selected to host the Central Region in Aberdeen, S.D. The selection show is slated for Sunday, March 7. The top six teams in the region make the NCAA tournament.

"I think we're in pretty decent shape," Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said of earning a tournament bid. "I think we've proven that we belong and it sounds like the committee thinks we belong, but until you see it you never know."

The 6-foot-8 Fox scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor with three rebounds and three blocked shots in the opening half. He posted those numbers despite sitting the final seven minutes of the first half due to foul trouble.

Northern State had four players named to the all-tournament team, including Fox, Mason Stark, Tommy Chatman and Andrew Kallman. Dragons guard Gavin Baumgartner also made the team. Stark was the tournament's MVP, scoring 24 points in the title game.

"I thought our first half as a team was amazing," Stark said. "I think that's the best first half of basketball we played all year and we really needed that."


Fox scored six of the points in an early 9-0 Northern State run. His transition layup gave the Wolves a 14-4 lead with 15:04 to play in the first half. The Wolves continued to build on the lead from there and took a 31-13 advantage after Fox sank a 3-pointer with 7:15 until halftime. Moments later, Fox picked up his second foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the half.

"They attacked us and we got on our heels and we let them dictate defensively this first half and the wheels came off," Walthall said.

The Dragons only got three minutes from starting point guard Bryce Irsfeld, who left the game early in the first half with an oblique injury and never returned. Walthall said his status is day-to-day moving forward.

"It really kind of snowballed on us." Walthall said.

Minnesota State Moorhead guard Jacob Beeninga drives around Northern State guard Mason Stark on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Bridget Larson / SPX Sports

The Wolves scored the final nine points of the first half to put an exclamation point on the opening 20 minutes. Mason Stark capped that run with a layup that gave Northern State a 45-18 lead with 3 seconds remaining in the half. The Wolves shot 18-for-30 (60%) from the floor in the first half, while the Dragons shot 8-for-20 (27%) from the floor.

"It's hard to push back from that amount if you are the other team," Phillips said. "I told our guys really we're the only ones who can take this from us right now."


Fox finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals in 24 minutes before fouling out in the second half.

"It's (Fox), but four of their starters were on the all-tournament team and Stark was the MVP," Walthall said. "They're loaded. It's that simple."

The Dragons clawed to get back into the game in the second half, but couldn't cut the Wolves lead into single digits after halftime. Freshman guard Gabe Myren sank a foul shot that capped a 9-0 MSUM run, cutting the Northern State lead to 64-50 with 4:36 to play in the second half. That was as close as the Dragons would get over the final 20 minutes.

"Our second half, we were just flying around," Walthall said. "I was proud of our effort. We played like the team I know we are.... Unfortunately, we didn't have two halves like that."

Baumgartner paced MSUM with 12 points and 12 rebounds, but the Dragons struggled to score, shooting 22-for-66 (33%) from the field. They shot 1-for-15 (7%) from 3-point range, missing their first 11 shots from beyond the arc.

"It was just a bad day at the office offensively for us," Walthall said. "They played like they've been there before and they looked like a team that was a championship team."


MSUM (10-4): McGhee 2-8 2-4 6, Baumgartner 5-15 2-4 12, Irsfeld 0-0 0-0 0, Zimmer 2-5 0-0 6, Kueth 2-9 2-2 6, Mertens 0-1 0-0 0, Myren 0-4 3-4 3, Sem 3-8 0-0 6, Gastner 0-0 0-0 0, Hanson 1-1 0-0 2, Rund 1-1 0-0 2, Sevlie 1-2 0-0 2, Bergh 1-2 0-0 2, Beeninga 4-9 3-3 11, Hagen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-66 12-17 57.

NSU (18-1): Chatman 4-9 1-2 10, Stark 9-14 4-5 24, Belka 3-7 0-0 8, Fox 7-11 4-6 20, Kallman 3-8 0-0 7, Robinson 1-1 0-0 2, Dominovic 0-0 2-2 2, Reede 0-0 0-0 0, Nielson 0-0 0-0 0, Rohrbach 0-0 0-0 0, Terhark 0-0 0-0 0, Busch 2-8 0-0 5, Holt 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-59 11-15 78.

Half: NSU 45, MSUM 18. 3-point goals: MSUM 1-15 (McGhee 0-1, Baumgartner 0-7, Zimmer 1-2, Kueth 0-1, Beeninga 0-3, Hagen 0-1), NSU 9-20 (Chatman 1-2, Stark 2-4, Belka 2-5, Fox 2-2, Kallman 1-3, Busch 1-4). Total fouls: MSUM 17, NSU 17. Fouled out: Fox. Rebounds: MSUM 42 (Baumgartner 12), NSU 38 (Belka 8). Assists: MSUM 4 (Four players with 1), NSU 12 (Chatman 4). Turnovers: MSUM 14 (Baumgartner 3, Kueth 3), NSU 14 (Fox 4).

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
What To Read Next
Get Local