SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Scottie Stone did his best to keep his team’s season alive on Sunday afternoon.
The St. Cloud State freshman helped lead a late comeback attempt in the Huskies’ NSIC Tournament quarterfinal game against Winona State at the Sanford Pentagon.
Stone had an open three-point shot with 40 seconds remaining that would have gotten the Huskies within one point after they had been down as much as 15 in the second half.
But the Melrose High School graduate’s attempt skipped off the rim and the Warriors held on for a 78-70 win to advance to the tournament semifinals on Monday afternoon.
“If I hit that three on the wing, it’s a one-point game,” Stone said. “It felt good. I thought it was in. It was a great look. I couldn’t ask for a better shot.”
Winona State takes on Minnesota State-Moorhead at 2:30 p.m. for the right to advance to the tournament championship game.
Stone’s three with two minutes left cut Winona’s lead to 72-66. He forced a steal on the inbounds pass to give the Huskies the ball back.
After three misses by SCSU, Damarius Cruz finally hit a jumper to make it 72-68 to culminate a 10-1 run for SCSU. The Huskies held on the other end to give Stone another look.
“Once we got our act together we really sped the game up,” Stone said. “It was a fun run there. It was close.”
Cruz led the Huskies with 17 points and Stone had 14.
“We started to pressure them defensively and they weren’t used to playing that way,” Cruz said. “We responded well there and started to frustrate them. Scottie’s shot almost went in. He had a big role in getting us back in it. I thought it was going in, it just rolled out.
“If this is it, it was a hell of a season for us.”
Winona State head coach Mike Leaf was breathing a sigh of relief after the victory.
“Their full-court pressure forced our young guards into a couple of bad passes,” Leaf said. “It was bang, bang, bang. It was getting too close for comfort. We made some mistakes down the stretch. When you have a lead like that in that timeframe, you have to play at your absolute best. We buckled down when we had to.”
The Huskies (20-8) are probably out of the Central Region Tournament picture with the loss. They were ranked eighth in the latest poll that was released last Wednesday and Moorhead was ranked 10th.
The Dragons beat Upper Iowa on Saturday to advance to the semifinals. The eight-team region field won’t be announced until 9:30 next Sunday night.
“We competed and showed some toughness,” said SCSU head coach Kevin Schlagel, who most likely coached his final game on Sunday. “Winona’s a great team. We fought with every ounce of strength that we had.
“We know we were on the bubble for the regional coming in and now we’re on the bubble going out. This doesn’t help us.”
Winona State’s defense and post players bothered St. Cloud State until the late comeback attempt. The Warriors (25-6) had a 44-20 scoring edge in the paint, won the rebound battle 37-35 and had a 25-17 advantage in second-chance points.
Winona State senior forward Kellen Taylor helped bottle up SCSU point guard Jordan Poydras. St. Cloud State’s leading scorer was held to nine points on 2 of 13 shooting. The 6-foot-7 Taylor had nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Riley Bambenek led the Warriors with 23 points.
“We didn’t get a lot of good looks against Taylor and that defense,” Schlagel said. “He had three blocks at the rim that normally we score on. He’s so athletic and long.
“Rebounding was the difference in the game. We gave them too many second opportunities.”
ST. CLOUD STATE (70)
Jordan Poydras 2-13 4-4 9 (4 assists), Damarius Cruz 6-18 2-2 17, Matt Craggs 2-3 6-6 10 (8 rebounds), Seth Mortag 1-4 6-7 8, James Fort 1-2 7-10 9, Scottie Stone 5-9 2-2 14, Connor Niehaus 1-6 0-0 3, Chris Larson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: FG 18-55, FT 27-31, REB 35, PF 20, TO 12.
WINONA STATE (78)
Kellen Taylor 3-5 3-4 9 (8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks), Josh Mongan 4-9 5-5 15 (4 assists), Riley Bambenek 7-15 6-7 23, Kyle Bauman 3-6 0-0 6, Mark Blacklock 6-8 3-5 15, Conrad Masberg 2-5 0-0 4, Isaiah Gray 3-8 0-2 6, Nick Arenz 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Cameron 0-1 0-0 0, Kyle Melcher 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: FG 28-60, FT 17-23, REB 37, PF 22, TO 11.
Halftime score: Winona State 36, St. Cloud State 29.