Pressure mounts for Bemidji State men’s basketball team as it enters final six games of the regular season

he Bemidji State men’s basketball team is anticipating its rematch against Minnesota State University, Moorhead on Saturday night (6 p.m.) at BSU Gymnasium.

But the Beavers are not overlooking Friday’s game against Minnesota-Crookston (8 p.m.) as the Golden Eagles have earned two of its three total conference wins over the last three games. Those wins have come against Moorhead and Northern State.

“I expect two hard-fought games,” Bemidji State guard Jason Edwards said. “Recently Crookston beat Moorhead and Moorhead beat us pretty bad earlier this season. Now we’ve got Dermaine Crockrell back so it will be a different kind of game.”

Bemidji State (16-6 overall, 11-5 NSIC) and Moorhead (15-5 overall, 11-5 NSIC) enter the weekend tied for third place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Standings. The two teams opened the conference schedule in December and the Dragons won 77-57.

Zach Noreen was injured and Crockrell, a junior transfer, was ineligible to play at the time for BSU.

Crockrell had his best game yet at BSU in last Saturday’s 93-85 win at Minnesota-Duluth with a team-high 27 points on 66 percent shooting.

BSU head coach Matt Bowen is more interested in Crockrell’s defensive abilities this weekend to guard Moorhead guard DJ Hamilton, who scored 27 points against the Beavers in the last meeting.

“We want to get that loss off of us and get a chance to get that back, but we haven’t matched up with them very well and they present us some problems,” Bowen said. “We’re a much different team and maybe with some home court advantage we can turn the table a little bit.”

Crookston (7-13 overall, 3-13 NSIC) are last in the conference standings, but have pulled off the upsets during its three-game home stand by beating Moorhead 82-79 and Northern State 88-73.

There are six games left in the regular season for BSU and there are hopes of qualifying for the national tournament.

“With each game the pressure mounts a little bit more and the excitement mounts a little bit more,” Bowen said. “You start thinking about all the wonderful opportunities ahead. The bottom line is we have very hot teams coming in this weekend.”

Edwards says he has noticed people paying more attention to BSU basketball on campus and in town. He said the recognition makes the team feel good.

“This team isn’t real familiar with this kind of situation, but we’re staying focused and playing every game as the underdog as we have before in our recent years,” Edwards said.

Bowen said he’s not sure how the team will handle the pressure of the final six games, though he has confidence because of the past experiences his players have.

Forward Lance Rongstad won a Wisconsin state championship and guard Bryce Tesdahl played in a Minnesota state championship.

“We have guys who have played in high-pressure situations and I think so far they’ve handled everything well and been very workman-like,” Bowen said. “They’re taking it one day at a time and one practice at a time. We’ll have to continue to do that for the next three weeks and hopefully that puts us in a position where we can play some playoff basketball.”

BSU women

The Bemidji State women’s basketball team hosts Crookston on Friday at 6 p.m. and Moorhead on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Bemidji State enters the weekend 8-13 overall (6-10 NSIC) after losing last Saturday’s road game at Minnesota-Duluth 60-39.

BSU is 3-2 in its last five games since snapping a season-long eight game losing streak.

Morgan Lee was BSU’s top scorer in the loss to UMD with 16 points and is averaging 12.3 points per game over the last three games.

Crookston enters the weekend 8-12 (5-11 NSIC) and Moorhead is 11-9 (8-8 NSIC).

Follow Eric Stromgren on Twitter at @estromgren and on Facebook.