Changing the record books: A 2011-12 regular season review
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Changing the record books: A 2011-12 regular season review
The 2011-12 season started with a trip to Colorado to battle a pair of regional opponents, including then-No. 10 Metro State. After a good effort, but a 71-60 loss, head coach Matt Bowen addressed the team in the locker room with expectations the NCAA Central Region Tournament would be in Denver.  
   
“At the end of that game we went into the locker room and I told the guys we can compete on the national level this year. Your goal is to get back to Denver. Let’s improve a little bit and compete at this level and get back to Denver. Now we are pretty close to getting to that point.”
   
The way things are shaping up the tournament won’t be hosted by Metro State, but by Colorado School of Mines, which is located in Golden, Colo., roughly 20 miles from downtown Denver. As the No. 6 team in the NCAA regional rankings Feb. 22 and winning a conference title since, the Beavers are primed to make the tournament with an at-large bid for just the second time in program history.
   
Last season the Beavers finished tied for 10th in the NSIC standings and were pegged seventh in the 2011-12 NSIC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. After losing just one senior in the offseason and adding a couple junior college transfers, the names on the roster really aren’t that different, but the mentality and experience are.
   
“You look at the team and this was going to be our year with Bryce (Tesdahl) being a senior, having a special player like James (Ellisor) and adding Dermaine (Crockrell) to the line-up, we knew we had some talent,” Bowen said.
   
“The guys worked really hard in the spring and did a good job this summer improving themselves physically. They had great focus and work ethic this fall that led into this season. “
   
A lot has happened since that game Nov. 11 in Denver. BSU has only lost six times and racked-up a program record 21 wins. After the loss to Metro State the Beavers won five straight games to tie a Bowen-era winning streak. BSU finished the nonconference season 5-1 for its best start since the 1997-98 season.
   
The Beavers had the daunting task of starting the NSIC slate with four straight games on the road, opening with MSU Moorhead Dec. 2. BSU lost that game and to then-No. 17 Winona State Dec. 9 and came out of the road trip 2-2 in NSIC play.   
   
Back home for three games the Beavers took a 9-3 record into the holiday break and returned to campus for a decisive 85-72 victory against Minnesota Duluth to reach the 10 win mark – already more wins in a season than Bowen’s first three teams amassed in a year.
   
A key to the early success was the emphasis on defense Bowen and the coaching staff had made early in fall practices. Through 13 games the Beavers were holding the opponent to a league-best 60.3 points per game that ranked No. 18 in the nation. The team was also holding the opposing jersey to a 42.4 shooting percentage from the field.
   
“Defense was a major focal point in the fall and certainly into building this team,” Bowen said. “We just try to challenge every shot and get every rebound. This year has been a good rebounding team. We have some limitations inside on guarding the post and that has hurt us, but I think we have done a much better job guarding the perimeter, being in position and a more difficult team to score against, which has helped in our success.”

   
BSU suffered its first loss by late game heroics against then-No. 21 Augustana College Jan. 7, falling in double overtime after NSIC Preseason Player of the Year Cody Schilling knocked down a deep 3-pointer to send the game into extra time. After winning at Wayne State the next night, the Beavers found themselves on the wrong end of a last second shot when then-No. 21 St. Cloud State visited BSU Gymnasium and found the bottom of the next with 0.7 seconds remaining to win 72-70.
   
Following the frustrating losses, the Beavers used heartbreak to fuel a four-game winning streak and made an appearance in the national poll for the first time in program history. A loss to Northern State on the road to end the month of January broke the winning ways, but was just a minor setback on the mission to make it back to Denver with the final month of the season in front of them.
   
The month of love has stretched the limits of the hearts of the men’s basketball program. BSU had another rout of rival-UMD to start it off, then a third late game shot dropped off the hand of an opponent as MSU Moorhead tied the game late with a 3-pointer and eventually took the game in overtime at home Feb. 11.
   
Turns out that was the last loss for the Beavers, as they take a four-game win streak and a 6-1 record in February into the postseason. The four-game run all started with BSU being on the right – maybe lucky – end of a buzzer-beater as Crockrell put up a shot as time expired at Southwest Minnesota State Feb. 17 that bounced off the rim, off the backboard and through the cylinder. The Beavers rode the emotional wave into last weekend where they defeated Upper Iowa and then No. 22 Winona State for the NSIC regular season championship. Now they turn their focus to the postseason with the goal of making it back to Denver clear in their sights.
  
 “We are certainly playing our best basketball,” Bowen said. “We haven’t turned the ball over much this year and we are giving ourselves a chance to win. The thing that this team has done a really good job of is just taking care of today. Looking no further than the next play ahead. I hope we can remain that focused.”
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