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Cougar men fall in UMAC title game

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The basketball season ended Saturday for the University of Minnesota, Morris men with a 73-60 loss to Northwestern in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Championship Game.

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Playing in their second straight UMAC Tournament Championship Game, the Cougars could not recreate the magic of a year ago.

Second-seeded Morris struggled all night long, putting up 71 shots - their second highest tally of the season - but finished just 32 percent (23-of-71) from the floor. The Cougars trailed by as must as 16 in the first half, before going into halftime down 11 at 40-29.

Host, and top-seeded, Northwestern finished shooting 44 percent (27-of-61), with four Eagle players reaching double figures, with two more at nine points.

The Cougars took their only lead two minutes in when Steve Birman nailed a three to put his team up temporarily at 3-2. Birman finished as the Cougars' leading scorer with 17, finishing his first UMAC Tournament with back-to-back 17-point performances.

The Eagles answered the Birman three with a 12-2 run and led 14-5 at the 14:13 mark. A four-point play by Brendon Foss briefly halted the Eagles' run, bringing the Cougars within five at 14-9 at the 12:50 mark, but that was as close as they would get in the first half.

After going down as much as 16 when Northwestern made it 36-20 with 4:02 left, Morris put a run of their own together, outscoring the Eagles 9-2 over a 2:37 stretch late to pull within nine at 38-29 with 1:39 left.

An Eric Dalbey three-point play capped the run, but Northwestern closed the first half scoring with a lay-up at the 1:14 mark. In his final game in a Cougar uniform Dalbey finished with 11 points, ending his career with 1,290 to move into 12th place on the Cougars' all-time list.

Fellow senior Daniel Fragodt finished with seven points and 10 rebounds in his Cougar finale.

The Eagles picked up in the second half where they left off in the first, going up by as much as 27 before the Cougars closed the gap late. Morris outscored Northwestern 19-5 over the final 8:32 of the game - including 11-0 at one point - but it was too little too late as the Eagles clinched a championship.

Foss was the only other Cougar in double figures, collecting his first career double-double with 12 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.

Northwestern will now move on to represent the UMAC in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cougars end the season with an identical record as last season, tying for the second most wins in the Grove era. They graduate just two players from a team that went 10-4 in conference play and advanced to their second straight Conference Tournament Championship Game.

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