BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman Behind a strong senior showing, the UMD men’s basketball team is shaking things up in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season.
After finishing outside of the top seven in each of the past three seasons, the Bulldogs (11-3, 7-1 NSIC) are currently tied for third in the NSIC with 14 conferences games left.
UMD’s seniors again played a key role in an 89-63 win over the University of Wisconsin Superior Wednesday afternoon at Romano Gym. Senior guard Junior Coleman led the way with 19 points, followed by fellow seniors Pierre Newton (16 points) and Taylor Lavery (13 points).
Overall, UMD continued to shoot the ball well. They shot 54.2% from three-point range, 51.6% on field goals and an impressive 85.7% from the free throw line.
“It’s a nice win for us. For us it’s just trying to maintain what we’ve got going. (The) guys are in a good groove right now,” head coach Matt Bowen said.
In Bowen’s fourth season as head coach of the Bulldogs, his senior class has led the charge, accounting for over 75 percent of UMD’s total points this season.
“This is the first group of seniors who understand completely what we’re trying to get done,” Bowen said. “They’ve gone through an 8-win season, a 12-win season, a 16-win season. They’ve bought into everything that we’re trying to do—the credit goes to them.”
Senior guard Taylor Lavery sees his team’s success as a result of good team chemistry.
“I feel like overall as a team we have a great bond. We don’t have class or school, so we’re all just hanging out with one another. (Previously) we did a lot of that, but there just wasn’t really a connection like there is this year,” Lavery said.
Lavery said his fellow seniors are even closer with one another.
“We all kind of live around one another, (so) we literally do everything together,” Lavery said.
While Wednesday’s blowout wasn’t a conference game, the win—UMD’s fourth in a row—was important in order to keep things rolling for the Bulldogs as they embark on a four game NSIC road trip Saturday at Bemidji.
The key matchup of that road series, against No. 2 ranked Augustana, is one of two top-ten teams the Bulldogs have on the schedule.
Looking toward that game, UMD will focus on playing sound defensively.
“The last couple games—and this is human nature—you start shooting the ball so well that you’re going to take some breaks on defense. We’re not always going to shoot this well, which means we’re gonna have to play some much more solid defense and put the two ends of the floor together,” Bowen said.
Despite knocking off No. 25 Minnesota State last weekend, UMD has yet to receive votes in the Division II National Association of Basketball Coaches poll. A successful road trip and a win against second-ranked Augustana would certainly change that—although it won’t be easy. “Playing on the road, it gets tough no matter where you are, you just have to stay positive and keep pushing forward,” Lavery said. “Four games from now we play the top team in the nation, so we’re really going to have to get down and be ready on defense.”