Riley Bambenek and Isaiah Gray led the Winona State men’s basketball team with 16 points but the Warriors fell to Northwest Missouri State 98-77 in the opening round of the NCAA Central Region Tournament Saturday in Mankato.
Bambenek was one of four Warriors to reach double figures on the offensive end of the floor, joined by Kellen Taylor, Isaiah Gray and Conrad Masberg.
Northwest Missouri State was able to control the game early with its 3-point shooting, making nine triples in the first half and 11 on the game. The Bearcats shot 55 percent from downtown on the night and 61 percent overall.
The Warrior deficit reached as many as 21 points with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game, but strong pressure on the Bearcat ballhandlers helped WSU cut into the lead. WSU cut the NMSU lead to 11 with 8:42 remaining after a 3-pointer by Taylor Cameron, but that was as close as the Warriors would get, with the Bearcats able to prevent a further run by Winona State.
Winona State finished the night shooting 39 percent from the floor and 36 percent from downtown. WSU did take very good care of the basketball, committing just seven turnovers.
Bambenek is the first Warrior freshman to lead the team in scoring for a season since Zach Malvik during the 2002-03 campaign. Bambenek was 6-of-12 from the floor on Saturday while knocking down a pair of shots from behind the 3-point line.
Taylor put together another strong all-around performance in his final game in a Warrior uniform, scoring 12 points while grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots.
Gray finished just three points off his career-high, scoring 16 while grabbing four rebounds and passing out three assists. Masberg knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to add his 13 points, going 4-for-5 from the field.
Northwest Missouri State shot the ball extremely well in the opening half, jumping out to a 45-30 lead at the break. NMSU led by as many as 20 in the first half but WSU cut it to 13 in the latter stages of the period and used a buzzer-beater triple by Masberg to go into the locker room down 15.
Winona State finishes the season with a 26-8 overall record, the fifth-most wins in a single season in program history. The Warriors have won at least 20 games in ten consecutive campaigns and reached the 25-win mark in each of the last three years.
--Courtesy Winona State Athletics