College men’s basketball: UMD blasts Bemidji State to close out regular season

Bulldogs play a first half for the ages on Senior Day at Romano Gym.

Minnesota Duluth's Austin Andrews drives to the basket past Bemidji State's John Sutherland for a layup during their game Saturday at Romano Gym in Duluth.
Terry Norton / UMD Athletics

DULUTH — During a break in the men’s basketball action on Senior Day Saturday at Romano Gym, Minnesota Duluth did a promotion where a student from the crowd attempted a halfcourt heave for a chance to win a $100 gift card.

That UMD student, Josh Rock, casually walked out to halfcourt and swished it. Like a Rock.

“Geez,” one official said, “everything is going in for you guys today.”

Yeah, it was that kind of day for UMD as the Bulldogs bulldozed Bemidji State 87-53 in their NSIC regular-season finale before 1,444 at Romano Gym, including a boisterous student body enticed by the offer of free pizza.

Guard Drew Blair had 17 points to lead six Bulldogs who scored at least nine points apiece. In fact, 10 UMD players scored in a game that was essentially over at halftime as the Bulldogs led by an incredible 45-11 at the break.


Blair said it was one of the most fun games he’s ever been a part of.

“I think it was a combination of the atmosphere, the crowd, a lot of family in town, obviously a big Senior Night for those guys, I think it was an accumulation of everything coming together,” Blair said. “When you get off to a hot start like that, the crowd just keeps feeding you energy and we were able to keep the momentum going from there.”

UMD honored its two seniors before the game, Isaiah Watts, who drained a couple 3-pointers in the second half for six points, and Charles Gorres.

Watts, before joining his teammates for a postgame pep talk, said, “It’s a great day to be a Bulldog.”

It will not be UMD’s last home game of the season as the Bulldogs (20-8 overall, 16-6 NSIC) host Minnesota State-Mankato (17-11, 11-11) at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Romano Gym in the first round of the NSIC tournament. The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday night but was moved up due to the weather forecast.

Drew Blair of Minnesota Duluth releases a shot in close quarters down low during the first half of the Bulldogs' win over Bemidji State on Saturday at Romano Gym in Duluth.
Terry Norton / UMD Athletics

The first NCAA Division II men’s basketball regional rankings were released earlier this week and UMD was among four NSIC teams under consideration in the Central Region to make the NCAA tournament.

An NSIC tournament run wouldn’t hurt to solidify the postseason chances for the Bulldogs, who have been buoyed by a top-five strength of schedule in the 42-team region.

“There are automatic bids for winning your conference, so some crazy stuff can happen,” UMD coach Justin Wieck said. “You just have to stay in the moment. It’s all about the next game and it’s all about staying hungry. It’s going to be a grind. There are going to be 12 really good teams in that (league) tournament. If we lose, we’ll still be in the mix, but then you’re just waiting for the right things to happen. You don’t want to be in that position.”


If UMD plays anything like they did in the first half Saturday, in particular the first half, there will be nothing to worry about. That was a Bulldogs buzzsaw.

UMD shot 48.6% in the first half, only had one turnover and outrebounded Bemidji State 28-20. The Beavers (18-10, 13-9), meanwhile, shot an abysmal 13.3% on 4 of 30 shooting — almost off the charts for men’s college basketball. Keep in mind this is a good team that almost hit the century mark the game before — a 99-81 home victory Thursday over St. Cloud State.

Minnesota Duluth's Joshua Brown releases a jump shot during a Saturday game vs. Bemidji State at Romano Gym as the Beavers' Mohamed Kone contests.
Terry Norton / UMD Athletics

John Sutherland, a Grand Rapids graduate who started his college career with the Bulldogs, was held to three points, more than 16 below his average as he was hounded by the likes of UMD’s Charlie Katona.

Bemidji State coach Mike Boschee, a 1991 graduate of the University of North Dakota, where he starred for some powerhouse teams, was asked if he ever remembered a half like that.

“I never have,” said. “I’ve never been a part of it as a player or as a coach. We just couldn’t get the ball in the hole from anywhere and they were making a lot of shots and their defense was really aggressive and physical, especially on Sutherland. Sutherland couldn’t do anything. They were all over him. If someone can match as well as they did, and be as physical as they were, it’ll be hard for us because we go through him quite a bit. He has a knack for the game.”

UMD has a lot of players like that. While the Bulldogs can’t rest on their laurels, Saturday could be a good sign they’re clicking.

“I’m super happy with how we’re playing, and how we’re preparing, so now it’s onto the next game,” Wieck said.

Bemidji State 11-42—53

Minn. Duluth 45-42—87

Bemidji State — Dalton Albrecht 8, R.J. Smith 7, John Sutherland 3, Mohamed Kone 8, Brayden Williams 5, Jonny Tennyson 10, Jayce Lowman 12. Totals 18 8-18 53.

3-point goals — Albrecht, Smith, Kone, Williams, Tennyson, Lowman 4.

Minnesota Duluth — Charlie Katona 2, Austin Andrews 10, Joshua Brown 9, Jack Middleton 13, Drew Blar 17, Mattie Thompson 9, Joshua Strong 12, Lincoln Meister 3, Isaiah Watts 6, Noah Paulson 6. Totals 34 6-12 87.

3-point goals — Brown 2, Middleton 3, Blair 3, Strong 2, Watts 2, Paulson.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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