The University of Minnesota, Morris men's basketball team split a pair of Upper Midwest Athletic Conference games, before returning to Jim Gremmels Court for a third-straight home win.
With their first win over Bethany Lutheran, the Cougars moved into a tie for first place in the UMAC. However, after their loss to Martin Luther, the Cougars dropped to 3-2 in UMAC play, falling into second place. Overall the Cougars are 6-9 on the season, with the loss snapping their three-game winning streak.
The Cougars were able to avoid their second straight loss, while winning their third straight at home, with a win over Trinity Bible College.
The Cougars got a 92-80 win over Bethany Lutheran Jan. 21, bettering the last unbeaten team in UMAC play.
A balanced attack saw five different players finish with 11 or more points, while the Cougars tied their season-high scoring mark, matching the 94 from the season opener.
The Cougars' offense prevailed, as they out-dueled the Vikings' top-ranked scoring defense. The Vikings had held their first three UMAC opponents under a 53-points-per-game average.
The win was also the second straight second-half comeback for the Cougars. After their big second half against Crown, they outscored the Vikings 47-32 in the second half on their way to their third straight win.
The Cougars trailed by 10 at 42-32 with 5:34 remaining in the first half, but closed the frame with a 13-6 run to trail by just three at the break at 48-45.
The Cougars had closed all the way to within two at 44-42 after Steve Birman drained three of his game-high 23 points, but the Vikings answered with four straight. From there, the final bucket of the half was the first of two Eric Dalbey threes in the game to send the teams into the locker rooms. Dalbey went on to finish with 14 points.
Derek Schmidt scored two of his 11 with a pair of free throws to open the half and bring the Cougars within one at 48-47 at the 19:14 mark. By the 16:11 mark, Birman gave the Cougars back the lead with a lay-up to make the score 59-58.
With Bethany looking to protect their unbeaten status, and the Cougars looking for an early seat at the top of the standings, the two teams traded blows until two Tom Barrett free throws gave the Cougars the lead for good at 65-64 with 12:33 left to play. There were four ties in the game, and seven total lead changes, all coming in the second half.
Barrett also finished among the scoring leaders with 11, including a 4-of-5 mark at the line. The Cougars held a huge advantage at the charity stripe, making 27 in their 36 trips, while the Vikings went to the line just 15 times, making 10.
Also scoring in double figures was Zach Meyer with 16. Over a 1:24 span late in the game, Meyer nailed a three, and had a three-point play to stretch the Cougars' lead to 13 at 88-75 with just 1:31 left to play, and all but eliminate any chance of a Viking comeback.
Meyer also pulled down six boards, as UMM held a 40-32 edge on the boards. The Cougars were paced by Daniel Fragodt with a game-high seven rebounds, part of an all-around effort by the senior with nine points, five assists, and two steals in a game-high 32 minutes on the floor.
Martin Luther 83
The Cougars nearly erased an 11-point second half deficit Jan. 22 before suffering an 83-76 setback against Martin Luther.
With 4:58 left to go, the Knights scored to go up 71-60, opening up their biggest lead of the game. Despite two missed free throws on the next trip down the floor, a rebound and put-back by Meyer got the Cougar offense rolling.
On the Cougars' next possession, Meyer charted a steal, offensive rebound, and two free throws to get UMM within seven at 71-64 with 3:45 left to play. Meyer went on to finish with 14 points on a 5-of-6 night from the floor and a 4-of-4 night from the free-throw line.
Late in the game the Cougars were able to pull all the way back within three, when Birman nailed one of his three three-pointers on his way to 13 points. Despite two missed shots on the possession, the Cougars crashed the boards to pull down a pair of offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive and set up Birman's trey.
UMM out-rebounded Martin Luther 32-27, including 13 on the offensive end, leading to 18 points.
After seeing their lead shrink to just three, the Knights nailed four straight free throws in the final 10 seconds to seal the win. The win was just the second for Martin Luther on the season.
Along with Meyer and Birman, Dalbey led all the Cougars with 15 points.
Trinity Bible 57
Despite trailing with under 10 minutes left in the first half, the Cougars regrouped to score a 102-57 win over visiting Trinity Bible Tuesday.
After Trinity Bible scored to go up 14-13 at the 9:21 mark of the first half, UMM quickly scored 10 straight. They outscored the Lions 24-8 over the next eight minutes to stretch their lead to its biggest of the game at 15 after a Kyle Bruns bucket made it 37-22 at the 1:15 mark. Before beginning their run, the Cougars had seven turnovers, but were able to right the ship, committing just two in the last nine minutes of the first half.
Bruns finished as one of five Cougars in double figures with 10 points in just 12 minutes of play.
It was a very balanced night for the Cougars, as everyone in uniform played five or more minutes, with all but one scoring. That lone player - Logan Orazem - did still find his way into the scoring mix, with a game-high four assists. The Cougars' bench played a huge part, finishing with 59 points as a unit, compared to just 19 for the Lion reserves.
The Cougars carried their momentum into the second half, where they shot a blazing 61 percent (26-of-43) from the floor, on their way to a 55 percent (42-of-76) mark. Only three times this season have the Cougars finished the game with a better mark from the floor, all three wins.
After the Lions took their last lead, the Cougars held them scoreless for over three minutes, forcing four missed shots and a turnover during the span. UMM forced Trinity Bible into 19 turnovers, turning them into 29 points while the Lions could only gain 12 points off 13 Cougar turnovers.
The Cougars led by as much as 46 in the second half, in topping the century mark for the first time all season. With 13 points, Ben Hoidal finished as the leading scorer, while Birman with 12 and Dalbey with 10 joined Bruns among the starters in double digits.
Schmidt led the way with eight rebounds, as the Cougars pulled down a season-high 52. Not far behind was Barrett with seven. With 12 points to go along with his seven boards, Barrett had one of his best all-around games of the season.