By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Missouri Western men's basketball team (1-0) led 45-34 at halftime and 66-50 with 6:30 left in the second half, but Minnesota-Crookston went on an inspired, 20-4 run to force overtime.
Crookston's Blaize Sagna hit a tying three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in regulation, but the Golden Eagles (0-1) never got the lead after halftime.
Missouri Western started the OT period on a 10-1 run and held on to beat the Golden Eagles 81-76 on Friday in the Hillyard Tip-off Classic at the MWSU Fieldhouse.
"We're never going to apologize for a win," Missouri Western men's basketball coach Will Martin said. "We got the W. We've got a lot, a lot to watch on the film. Which is good. You always like to learn more in the wins, but typically, you learn more in the losses. So, this one felt like a loss because of the way they came back."
"I think our guys played hard. I think they showed resiliency by getting it done in overtime. I thought we were really disciplined in that overtime."
Crookston went blow-for-blow with Missouri Western early. The Golden Eagles led 18-17 with 10:40 left in the first half, but the Griffons started shooting three-pointers, and just kept on making them.
Missouri Western was a scorching seven of their first 10 from beyond the arc Friday and ended the first half, shooting 10-of-15 from long range. The Griffons were led in three-point shooting by sophomore Zion Swader.
The sophomore from Murfreesboro, Tennessee scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the first half on a perfect 5-for-5 effort from three.
"I knew I had to have a bigger role with the team," Swader said. "I was confident coming into the year. I worked on my shot a lot this offseason. I was just ready to get out there and play."
The Griffons controlled momentum for much of the second half, leading 66-50 with 6:32 left in regulation. However, Missouri Western shot just 7-of-30 in the final 20 minutes of regulation, and Crookston hit five three-pointers during that time to crawl back in it.
Western was just 2-of-11 from three in the second half.
"I thought we settled for too many threes in the second half and that's how they got back," Martin said.
The first 3.5 minutes of overtime, however, could not have gone much better for Missouri Western. The Griffons held Crookston scoreless for the first 2:17 of overtime and led 80-71 with 1:34 left.
Even in OT, it wasn't always pretty. The Griffons missed four free throws in the extra period, but the Golden Eagles were 0-for-4 from three in OT, which helped Missouri Western hang on.
Redshirt sophomore and Morehead State transfer Julius Dixon had 17 points and nine rebounds in his official Griffon debut. Sophomore Taye Fields dumped in 13 points and seven rebounds. Junior Will Eames had seven points and a team-best 11 rebounds.
Sagna, who hit the tying three in regulation, led Minnesota-Crookston with 21 points. Xzavier Jones had 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Griffons outrebounded the Golden Eagles 45-37, including 14-8 on the offensive glass. Missouri Western scored 23 points off of 13 Crookston turnovers. The Griffons finished 12-of-26 from three, while Crookston was 9-of-27 .
Both teams struggled at the free throw line Friday. Missouri Western was 13-of-22, and Minnesota-Crookston was 7-of-15.
Missouri Western will face Northern State (0-1) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the MWSU Fieldhouse. The Wolves battled, but fell to No. 1 ranked Northwest Missouri State 81-78 in St. Joseph Friday.
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