College men’s basketball: Blair, Bulldogs shoot past Warriors in season opener
Sophomore guard comes out firing en route to 27-point performance.
Minnesota Duluth sophomore guard Drew Blair drained one 3-pointer after another Saturday at Romano Gym, his range extending out to the Essentia Health logo about five feet beyond the arc.
Blair was asked just how far out he could go.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Blair said, laughing. “We’re going to have to find out, I guess. I like stretching it a little bit when I get in a zone. I stretch it out, and if it feels good, it feels good. I let it fly.”
Blair scored a game-high 27 points, including 18 in the first half, to lead the Bulldogs to an 81-59 NSIC victory over Winona State in their season opener.
The game was played without any fans due to COVID-19 precautions but UMD’s bench showed plenty of energy, getting loud after every big shot or defensive stop.
“At the start it felt a lot different, but once you get going, once you get in the zone, it’s kind of you and your guys out there,” said Blair, who was 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. “Credit to our bench. They made it as much like a normal game as they could. They were all riled up. They created so much energy for us, and honestly, that’s the biggest thing. There’s nobody in there, so you’ve got to bring your own energy.
“We talked about that. One through 14, whether you played zero minutes or you played 40 minutes, if we’re all locked in, you’re going to make a difference.”
Blair started the season about as well as anybody could ever start a season, connecting on his first four shots — including three 3-pointers — scoring the Bulldogs’ first 11 points of the contest.
“It was a good start; it felt good to get into a rhythm early,” Blair said. “Coach (Justin) Wieck is awesome. He lets his guys do their thing, whether it’s me or someone else, and my teammates know who to get the ball to, who’s feeling it. Across the board, it’s just a fun place to play.”
From there, Austin Andrews (17 points), Joshua Brown (12), Charlie Katona (10) and Jack Middletown (nine) also got into the act as UMD led 39-27 at halftime and put it away with an 11-2 run midway through the second half jump started by a pair of Blair 3-pointers. With the exception of Blair, forgive yourself if you said, “Who the heck are these guys?” Yes, with three freshmen and two sophomores starting, it will take UMD fans some time to get up to speed on name recognition.
For the handful of media in attendance, it felt like watching a scrimmage, but to the teams it certainly wasn't.
“I’m proud of our guys. They played with a ton of energy,” Wieck said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who are learning whole different roles. I just challenged our guys to play as hard as they could, to have as much energy as they could. We knew we’d be in for a big-time fight, and even without fans, it felt as intense as any game I’ve coached. Our bench was phenomenal.”
UMD was only picked to finish tied for fourth in the NSIC North Division despite going 22-9 last year. That’s because the Bulldogs graduated four starters and 67 percent of their scoring.
“With our 12, 14, 16 guys, we think we can win every single night if we play our game,” Blair said. “I don’t know if we felt disrespected by that (preseason poll), but obviously we think we have a chance to win every game and hopefully find ourselves somewhere at the top of the league.”
Winona State, meanwhile, featured a lineup with four seniors and a junior. The Warriors were picked to finish third in the NSIC South Division.
Senior guard/forward Kevion Taylor had 23 points to lead Winona State while senior guard Dalante Peyton added 11 points. The Warriors had the slashers — guys who were good getting to the rim — but UMD had the shooters. While most of the stats from this game were incredibly similar, one stat stuck out: Winona State was just 6-for-27 shooting from 3-point range compared to 13-for-25 shooting for UMD from beyond the arc.
“UMD did what they wanted offensively and made us pay for our lack of toughness and togetherness,” Warriors coach Todd Eisner said. “Give UMD credit, they played the game with much more physicality and enthusiasm than we did. We weren’t very good at either end of the floor, and until we decide to defend with a much greater willingness to make our opponent uncomfortable, it won’t matter what we do offensively, especially on the road in the NSIC.”
The same teams rematch at 4 p.m. today at Romano Gym.
“I know a lot of guys projected Winona to finish on top of the league, but I don’t know if anybody will be surprised by this,” Blair added. “There might be a few people, but that’s what preseason rankings are for. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Obviously we’ve got to play Winona again tomorrow, and they’re a great team. They just had an off shooting night, but we’re not content with one win. We’re going to try to get another one tomorrow.”
Minnesota Duluth 81, Winona State 59
Winona State — Kevion Taylor 8-14 5-6 23, Dalante Peyton 3-8 4-5 11, Devin Whitelow 2-4 0-0 4, Andrea Lo Biondo 2-2 0-0 4, Owen King 0-7 0-0 0, Luke Martens 3-7 0-0 7, Declan Dillon 2-2 0-0 6, Nick Klug 1-3 2-2 4, Connor Dillon 0-1 0-0 0, Carson Arenz 0-1 0-0 0, Alier Riak 0-1 0-0 0, Bill Flowers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 11-13 59.
Minnesota Duluth — Drew Blair 9-15 3-3 27, Austin Andrews 7-9 2-6 17, Joshua Brown 4-5 2-3 12, Charlie Katona 3-7 4-4 10, Jack Middleton 3-7 0-0 9, Zach Lea 2-2 1-3 6, Mason Steffen 0-2 0-0 0, Cole Nicholson 0-1 0-0 0, Isaiah Watts 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-49 12-19 81.
Halftime — UMD 39, Winona State 27. 3-point goals — Winona State 6-27 (Taylor 2-8, Peyton 1-6, King 0-3, Martens 1-5, D. Dillon 2-2, Klug 0-1, C. Dillon 0-1, Flowers 0-1), UMD 13-25 (Blair 6-9, Andrews 1-1, Brown 2-3, Katona 0-3, Middleton 3-5, Lea 1-1, Steffen 0-2, Watts 0-1). Fouls — Winona State 16, UMD 17. Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Winona State 26 (Whitelow 6), UMD 29 (Andrews 7). Assists — Winona State 11 (Whitelow 5), UMD 11 (Middleton 4). Turnovers — Winona State 11 (Taylor 4), UMD 12 (Blair 6).