Dragon dreams dashed in Elite Eight

by Tomi Thompson

thompsonto@mnstate.edu

The Dragon men’s basketball team finished their historic season Wednesday night with a 92-75 loss to the Bellarmine Knights in the NCAA Division II quarterfinal playoff game. The game marked the first time the men’s basketball team has made it to the Elite Eight in school history.

The men ended their season 35-4, setting a new school record for most wins in a season.

MSUM was unable to match Bellarmine’s outstanding 60.7 shooting percentage and the Knights’ aggressive play. The men trailed  by only six at halftime, but Bellarmine’s 12-0 run shortly into the second half was too much for MSUM to overcome.

For senior guard Jordan Riewer, senior forward Urbane Bingham and senior guard Prescott Williams, the game marked the end of their career as Dragons. Riewer scored 11 points and had a game-high six assists, Bingham put up 12 points and five rebounds and Williams chipped in seven points. Riewer finished the season as the school’s all time leader in assists and three-pointers.

Head coach Chad Walthall, sophomore guard Aaron Lien, senior guard Jordan Riewer and junior guard Tyler Vaughan addressed the media in a press conference following the game.

Walthall said he was impressed by Bellarmine’s outstanding performance.

“We ran into a little bit of a buzz saw tonight,” Walthall said. “I thought Bellarmine was just outstanding. 

“I thought defensively maybe we had too many breakdowns. You can’t afford to have breakdowns against a team like that with that much offensive firepower.”

Lien said the Knight’s play was unstoppable.

“It’s tough, especially when it’s a home crowd-feel for them being so close, when they get momentum,  you’re not going to be able to stop it,” Lien said. “We just weren’t getting stops, and that was the biggest thing.”

Riewer spoke simply about the Knights’ success. “They’re a great team; they played excellent tonight.”

Though the season ended in a tough loss, the team was humble about their successful season and the time they spent making history together.

“I’m proud of our guys. They were great all year,” Walthall said. “We’ve done some things this year that will go down in history in our school for a while. I’m proud of them.” 

Lien said the team has a special bond that largely contributed to their success.

“I would say its been a special year for us. I think that the team chemistry and the bond that we have has never really broken throughout the year, and that’s really what has carried us to have such a successful year,” he said. “There’s going to be ups and downs to every season, but I think that just the core and the group of guys that we have on this team has made it such an unbelievable ride for us.”

Riewer emotionally expressed thanks for his teammates.

“I’ve got unbelievable teammates,” Riewer said, “I love these guys; its been a fun year.”

Lien added the support the Dragons had this season boosted the team’s play.

“Just to see all the fans and all the community support that we had that’s built up throughout the year has been truly incredible.”

Riewer said the Dragon fan base has transformed over his five years at MSUM.

“Five years ago, when I first got to Moorhead, there was 100 people in the crowd, and just to see everybody come out from the Fargo-Moorhead and support us over the last couple years has just been unbelievable, and to be a part of it, it’s hard to explain,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”

Vaughan didn’t think anyone predicted MSUM would have a season like they did.

“If you would have told us at the start of the year that we would have won a share of the conference and won the region and got to the Elite Eight, I think every single person in our team and in Moorhead would have been saying that was an unbelievable feat. Moorhead doesn’t have the greatest basketball history, so this has just been unbelievable.”

Vaughan said the leadership from Riewer will be missed next season.

“My freshman year I came here, and Jordan just brought me in and led the way the whole time for me. He’s just been leading by example, and he’s gotten all of us better just by the way he’s been working hard. Next year without him is going to be crazy different, and I’m honored to be able to play with him.” 

Walthall said this team is a special group of guys that put MSUM basketball on the national map.

“Talent will get you a lot of wins, but  the wins that we’ve had, you’ve got to really have a group that’s special,” he said. “This group is as special as I’ve ever been around.

“Now the key is let’s put Moorhead on the map every year. I’m not saying we’re going to be here every year, I understand how tough it is to get here, but we’re going to try to be in the hunt.”

The 2014-15 season will be a historical benchmark for Dragons basketball for many years to come.

“What a ride,” Walthall said, “so proud to be their coach.”

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