In his third year as the men’s basketball head coach here at UMD, Matt Bowen is a familiar face around campus. Bowen and his team are coming down to the final stretch of the 2014-15 season. With a 12-10-conference record and 15-13 overall record on the season, Bowen said it’s time for his team — and especially his seniors — to step up and finish strong.
“I believe that (Reece) Zoelle can be the X-factor here at the end of the season,” Bowen said. “He has a tremendous amount of potential. He’ll be the first to admit he hasn’t had the (senior) year he’s wanted, but when Reece plays well it really opens up things for the rest of the guys.”
It’s been a long season for the Bulldogs. With the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament starting Wednesday, there haven’t been breaks. They’ve struggled to put wins together consistently. Throughout certain points of the season there have been glimmers of hope, including the team winning their first three games.
The fast start was quickly overshadowed by a five-game losing streak that immediately followed, losing three of those games by three points or less. Coach Bowen admitted he was relying on transfers and new players more than he’d like to, and that it’s been sort of like “Jekyll and Hyde” for most of the season — winning one night but losing the next.
“We are who we are, and there’s no time left to make any major changes.” Bowen said. “We’re going to look to get the ball to (Brett) Ervin, expect Pierre (Newton) to score in transition and (Taylor) Lavery and Zoelle to hit shots from deep. When they do it consistently, they’re pretty good.”
But lack of consistency is what killed this team all season long. Coach Bowen said that he uses games like the loss to Southwest Minnesota State as learning tools to help his team.
“We basically got beat by a bunch of freshman and sophomores that game,” Bowen said. “It was a real eye-opener. We don’t want to dwell on our mistakes. The season is a marathon and we’re at the sprint portion.”
With their final two games coming against familiar opponents, University of Mary and Minot State, the Bulldogs were able to finish their season on a three-game win streak — with all three games decided by four points or less.
Their final game against the Minot State Beavers went into overtime, where a pair of late turnovers by the Beavers helped the Bulldogs finish the regular season on a high note. Brett Ervin led all scorers with 22 points. Pierre Newton added on with 19 points, including going 11-15 from the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs will take on Winona State, whom they beat earlier in the season 76-63, in the opening round of the NSIC tournament Wednesday Feb. 25 at 7p.m. at Romano Gym.
BY RYAN DEPAUW