MOORHEAD — St. Cloud State made a comeback attempt from 19 points down in the second half Saturday night, but fell for the first time this season in a 78-74 loss at Minnesota State-Moorhead in front of 1,050 fans at Alex Nemzek Hall.
The No. 11-ranked Huskies are 4-1 in the NSIC and 7-1 overall. MSU-Moorhead, the favorite to win the NSIC North Division this year in the preseason coaches poll, improved to 4-1 in the conference and 9-1 overall.
St. Cloud State senior point guard Shaun Jensen had a three-point shot to tie the game with four seconds left, but it rimmed out. The Dragons iced the game with 1 of 2 free throws from Alex Novak with less than two seconds to go.
“I thought it was going down,” St. Cloud State head coach Kevin Schlagel said of Jensen’s three. “He gave it a good shot. It just didn’t bounce our way. It’s tough to win two on the road. We knew it was going to be a battle up here. We regrouped, but it wasn’t in time.”
The Dragons took the 19-point lead after a three-pointer from Anthony Tucker with 14:31 left. An 11-0 run by the Huskies helped get them back in it. The run culminated with a three from Jensen with 9:02 remaining.
Schlagel said a switch to a zone defense helped the Huskies get back in it, but he was still upset with the overall play of his team on the defensive end.
“They missed a few shots in the second half and that opened the door for us,” Schlagel said. “I thought we were sluggish tonight, though. They were much quicker than us. We couldn’t guard them. Defense has been our strength so far this year and it was surprising the way we played on that end. We were out of synch.”
The closest the Huskies could get was two points the rest of the way. The last time came with 2:14 to go after a jump shot from Jensen.
Jensen had a banner night, finishing with 30 points, seven assists and six steals. Connor Niehaus added 13 points for the Huskies and Theo Rothstein had 11. Tucker, who transferred from Winona State and sat out last season, led the Dragons with 32 points.
St. Cloud State shot 42.4 percent from the field, 9 of 24 from three-point range and 9 of 12 from the free-throw line. Moorhead shot 51.9 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from downtown and went 16 of 23 from the free-throw line.
The Huskies don’t play again until Dec. 29 when they host Ashford (Iowa) University at 3 p.m. at Halenbeck Hall. The Huskies will practice next week, but will have off from Dec. 20-26.
“I think everybody could use this break,” Schlagel said. “We’ve been going heavy since Oct. 15. I think all of us look forward to competing, but we could use it.”
ST. CLOUD STATE (74)
Shaun Jensen 13-22 2-2 30 (7 assists, 6 steals), Connor Niehaus 4-7 1-2 13, Theo Rothstein 4-11 2-3 11, James Fort 3-5 2-2 8, Damarius Cruz 1-8 0-0 3, Kevin Levandoski 2-5 0-0 5, Kenquane Brown 1-6 2-3 4 (6 rebounds), Jordan Poydras 0-0 0-0 0, Tyson Kalien 0-1 0-0 0, Scott Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Larson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: FG 28-66, FT 9-12, REB 32, PF 15, TO 9.
Anthony Tucker 10-14 9-9 32, Jordan Riewer 5-12 2-2 13 (4 assists), Alex Novak 6-9 1-6 13 (8 rebounds), Taylor Fillipek 1-4 1-2 3, Brady Wohler 1-4 0-0 2, Eric Olson 3-5 3-4 9 (9 rebounds), Tyler Vaughan 1-5 0-0 3 (3 steals), Damien Reinke 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: FG 28-54, FT 16-23, REB 38, PF 9, TO 14.
Halftime score: MSU-Moorhead 44, St. Cloud State 32.