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The Super Bowl has come and gone, but now we have to hurry up and watch because as our favorite fall sport finally ends its five-month run, winter sports are heading for a sudden end, in both basketball and hockey. The high school hockey season is hurtling toward its Section final conclusion, and what keepsakes we keep finding.
I even found some interesting viewing inside a couple of basketball arenas last weekend.
Not that we mean to belittle the Super Bowl. It was the best Super Bowl ever played, if you measure by the fact that there were none of the flat spots or boring stretches that often interrupt those pinnacle games. A year ago, for example, the New England Patriots came roaring back from a huge halftime deficit to win, but the Patriots also played poorly to get so far behind.
This time, there were no weak or soft series, from start to finish. I expected Tom Brady to be excellent, and he was, but I also expected Nick Foles to prove he was more than just a cliched back-up quarterback, and he was brilliant against the Patriots.
Big plays, big catches, tough calls that usually go New England’s way somehow went the Eagles’ way, specifically on two touchdowns. The best thing about the 41-33 Eagles victory — I had picked the Eagles 31-24 -— is that it will put to rest the tiring, sensation-seeking media types from proclaiming the Patriots are the best team ever, that Bill Belichick is the greatest coach ever, and Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever.
Also, the fickle Vikings fans and followers might now realize that when the Purple lost in the NFC final, that loss came against a pretty good Philadelphia team. And Foles, much like the Vikings Case Keenum, is capable of taking his team all the way. I find it still astonishing that so many people are raving about seeking Kirk Cousins and forgetting all about Keenum and his cohorts, who sound like a law firm: Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater.
Basketball fans needn’t whine about the Timberwolves inconsistencies or the Gophers Division I failings, because we can go to virtually any high school gym and find gratifying entertainment. We also are fortunate to have both Division II basketball at UMD’s Romano Gym, and just a few blocks west, in Reif Gym at St. Scholastica, we can find highly entertaining Division III basketball. Particularly when they come against Wisconsin Superior, now a UMAC foe of the Saints.
Last week, I found the perfect chance to catch up to both St.. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior, because they were playing each other in men’s and women’s basketball at Reif Gym. The men went first, and unfortunately I had an appointment that prevented me from also watching the amazing unbeaten Yellowjackets women -- who blitzed the St. Scholastica women 76-29 to continue an undefeated UMAC streak that has lasted as long as UWS has been in the UMAC.
The men had an interesting match, going back and forth through much of the first half, then the Saints kept scoring and UWS seemed to panic into a forced-shot mode, and fell behind 49-36 by halftime. The Saints shot a sizzling 64.5 percent, but the plucky Yellowjackets gave it a valiant run in the second half. They closed in, and the Saints felt it, but couldn’t prevent UWS from sneaking right past them for a 76-75 lead with 1:48 remaining.
With the Saints 9-3 and challenging for the UMAC lead, and UWD 3-9 and just trying to show steady improvement, such an upset would have sent ripples throughout the league. But the Saints regained their poise and regained the lead, improving it to 79-76 into the final minute. The Yellowjackets had Vid Milenkovic scoring 21, Colton Williams 16, Shaq Coleman 15 and Montray Scott 15, but wound up getting the ball to Nate Kalien near the right sideline. He wasn’t one of the top scorers, but he was open, and he drilled a 3-point shot with 0:24 left to gain a 79-79 tie.
Twenty-four seconds isn’t a long time, but it can seem more like 10 minutes if both sides take repeated time outs, and that’s what happened in this one. With the final seconds going away, the Saints failed to score, and the ball came loose under the basket. Players from both sides went after it in a large tangle, but those refs are so astute they knew exactly who committed a foul, and it went against the Yellowjackets, with with 0:00.3 remaining. Three-tenths of a second.
St. Scholastica’s Brandon Newman went to the free throw line, and the pressure was palpable. It was apparently palpable to Newman, also, because the junior guard from Barnum tossed a brick up there on the first of two free throws, and it was still overtime, here we come. But Newman gathered himself together and with poise that he may not have been feeling inside, he made the second free throw and the Saints won 80-79.
That free throw gave Newman 15 points, same as Collin Anderson, while Nate Weets had 14, Sam Thompson 11, and Dylan Zimmerman 10. All five in double figures.
I also caught UMD facing Minnesota State-Mankato Friday night. The UMD women polished off the Mavericks 68-55, as Sammy Kozlowski scored 20 and Emma Boehm 19 to lead the way.
The UMD men, however, baffled me a bit. The Bulldogs appear to have a pretty talented team, but on this night, only sophomore Brandon Myer was connecting in the first half. The teams were going up and down the floor, and the Bulldogs weren’t particularly trying to set up Myer, but every time he touched the ball, it seemed to go into the basket. He made three straight, including a long 3-pointer, then came out for a rest. A rest? With nobody else hitting, the Mavericks gained a 35-30 lead.
I perused the score sheet, and noticed that, sure enough, Myer had made 5 of 9 shots for 13 points, and a 55.6 shooting percentage; the rest of the UMD team was 7-24 for 17 points, a 29.2 percentage. The second half was more of the same.
For the game, Myer, who is from Superior and might be the best legitimate, home-grown UMD basketball standout in the last 50 years, scored 23 points in what became a 76-58 loss to MSU-Mankato. He hit 8 of 14 shots, cooling off in the minutes after another break, which was good for 57.1 percent, while the rest of the team was 14 of 51, 36.4 percent. Myer also was 6-6 on free throws with his amazingly soft touch, and he led the game in both rebounds with 9 and defensive rebounds with 8 while playing 30 of the 40 minutes.
For the game, if you like such math equations, UMD as a team shot 36.4 percent and Mankato 35.1 for the first half, and UMD’s 31.3 percent in the second half compared to the Mavericks hitting 14 of 26 for 53.8 percent. That gave the Mavericks a 42.9 percent total for the game, to UMD’s 33.8.
The Bulldogs were stronger the next night, with Jake Wilson’s 19, Logan Rohrscheib 15 and Sen Burns 13, but they lost 88-85 to Concordia in overtime, while the UMD women whipped Concordia 61-44 for a weekend sweep. The final home weekend of the regular season has Minot State in town for women’s game at 6 and the men at 8 on Friday, then Mary comes in for a women’s game at 4 and the men’s at 6.