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Northern defeats Moorhead, moves into Central Region title contest

Northern State University’s Tommy Chatman, center, lays up a shot around Minnesota State University-Moorhead’s Dane Zimmer, right, during Sunday’s NCAA Division II Central Regional tournament game at Wachs Arena. Photo by John Davis taken 3/14/2021

It’s always tough to beat a quality team three times in a season. Unless, of course, you have some toughness of your own.

Northern State erased a five-point second-half deficit and defeated Minnesota State Moorhead 77-65 in the semifinals of the Central Region men’s basketball tournament at Wachs Arena Sunday night. It marked the third time the Wolves slayed the Dragons in four attempts this season.

“I had a feeling after the (NSIC Tournament championship) game in Sioux Falls that we might see them again, because they’re good,” said Northern coach Saul Phillips. “They’ve got good players, they’re well coached and they do things the right way, so yeah, they were going to be around in March. They put together a really good squad this year. I’m glad I don’t have to play them again this year, quite honestly.”

Northern, which led by eight in the first half, found itself trailing 35-33 at halftime. The Wolves were not worried, though.

“We expect greatness. We expect to win. And we can rely on each other to do so. We don’t need anybody to take over a game,” said Northern center Parker Fox. “I don’t need to take over a game. Mason (Stark) doesn’t need to take over a game. Andrew (Kallman) doesn’t need to take over a game. We do it as a team. That’s just a testament to Northern State basketball.”

Trailing 38-33, Northern went on a 21-5 run to change the complexion of the second half. Phillips pointed out that it started off with unselfish basketball.

“The first four points of that were shots off of the assists where we got layups. Both guys that caught it had an advantage, because somebody else had set them up,” Phillips said. “Then from there we were able to get downhill pretty well.”

The Wolves gradually extended that lead and were up by 13 with five minutes left. However, Moorhead would not go quietly. The Dragons trailed 69-62 with two minutes left and appeared to have an opening in transition before Fox tracked down the play and wiped away a sure layup, despite having four fouls.

“I think that’s just a testament to the way I play. We haven’t played a game in two weeks so I looked over at our bench and I’m like, ‘I’m tired man, I’m exhausted.’ But I knew that I had to get back on D. I seen him probably about 4-5 steps ahead of me and I know that I’m quick enough to get back there so I just took off and I got all ball. It was a clean block. So I saved that layup. It’s the way I play, with energy, emotion and passion. I wouldn’t change it for anything else.”

That was just one of eight blocks on the night for Fox. He also discouraged other shots in the paint when Moorhead players were able to beat their man off the dribble.

“I thought defensively, we were extremely disruptive,” Phillips said. “Parker’s eight blocks played a factor, but our guards Mason, Andrew, Tommy (Chatman), getting deflections, getting us out in the open court a little bit.”

Fox finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds to go along with his blocks. Stark added 18 points, Chatman 16 and Kallman 15.

Fox knew it would be a battle against the Dragons.

“Anytime you play a basketball game in March its going to be a competition,” Fox said. “It’s just going to be an absolute grind-it-out fest no matter who you’re playing.”

The Wolves now take on perennial power Northwest Missouri State in the region championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wachs Arena. Phillips is looking for another opportunity to coach his team and continue to be a part of March Madness.

“I always try to frame it like this: you’re going to have memories about this game, either way. Let’s just make it real positive,” Phillips said. “We get a chance to make plays. We get a chance to take our five and beat their five. There’s no more fun way for me to spend a day than to try to help these guys try to figure out how to beat that five.”

For a box score of the contest visit the following link:

https://nsuwolves.com/sports/mens-basketball/stats/2020-21/msu-moorhead/boxscore/9201

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