College men's basketball: UMD grits its way into conference title game
NSIC North Division Player of the Year Austin Andrews suffered a knee injury late in the first half and did not return.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — No. 12 Minnesota Duluth fought through a significant injury and a relentless Upper Iowa offense to defeat the Peacocks 76-73 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament semifinals and play in the program's first championship game in 18 years.
The 14th-ranked Peacocks opened the game on a 12-2 run and were 14-for-26 (53.8%) from the field in the first half and led throughout. Late in the first half, Austin Andrews, the recently crowned NSIC North Division Player of the Year, suffered a knee injury and was helped off the floor. He did not return.
Lincoln Meister relieved Andrews and posted eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. The Bulldogs took their first lead on Meister's bucket a minute into the second half, starting an exciting back-and-forth that featured nine lead changes and three ties.
UMD led by as many as five points twice before UIU canned threes on three consecutive trips for a four-point advantage at the midway point of the period.
A jumper in transition by Jack Middleton put UMD up 64-63 with 5:54 to play and ended up marking the last time the Bulldogs trailed in the contest. Drew Blair made a key jumper and Joshua Brown two of them (one of them from outside the arc) to keep the Bulldogs' noses in front in the last three minutes, making a buzzer-beating three from UIU's Joe Smoldt solely academic.
Blair racked up 29 points, including 7-of-7 free-throw attempts. Brown added 16 points for the Bulldogs, who overcame 3-for-19 shooting from outside the arc.
Smoldt led Upper Iowa (25-5) with 19 points.
In a postgame interview with KBJR-TV, UMD coach Justin Wieck said trainers do not believe Andrews suffered structural damage but that soreness would be likely to keep him out of Tuesday's 4 p.m. title game against Minnesota State-Moorhead, an upset winner over Augustana in the other semifinal. UMD won both regular-season meetings with the Dragons.
The Bulldogs' last appearance in the championship game was a 2004 loss to Northern State, and their last win was in 2003 against the Dragons.
Upper Iowa and Augustana were the two schools ranked in front of UMD in the last NCAA Division II regional rankings. Augustana won its only head-to-head meeting with UMD (in Sioux Falls) and still has three losses to UMD's four.