Dickinson State got its all-time series against Bellevue (Neb.) started on the right foot Friday night.
The Bruins (7-5, 1-1 North Star Athletic Association), who have played this season with far more poise than that of a usual program in its inaugural season, were kept at arm's length for most of the game by the Blue Hawks (5-3, 2-1), who came away with the 68-54 victory at Scott Gymnasium.
The game's defining stretch came with five minutes left, with the score close in favor of DSU, 53-51. Bellevue had just blown two shots to either tie the game or take the lead, when Megan Klein pushed the lead to five with a layup plus a foul.
Klein, who finished with nine points and 12 rebounds, fouled out the very next play, but the DSU defense was able to clamp down and hold the Bruins to only three more points the rest of the way, closing out the last handful of minutes on a 12-3 run.
Bellevue, which entered the game with a 1-0 conference record, proved a pesky and scrappy out, but could never quite find a way to get over the slim advantage the Blue Hawks held for most of the game.
DSU ended all four quarters with a lead, but each was marginal - three points after one, four at half, and four after three - until the Blue Hawks finally blew open the game late.
"We've played first-year programs that have a lot of younger players, whereas Bellevue started, what, four juniors and a senior?" said Ashley Bentz-Laub, who finished with a team-high 17 and a couple of 3-pointers down the stretch to help extend the lead. "They're experienced, and they were very physical, which in a first-year program is kind of unexpected. But as the game went on we kind of adjusted to their style and got things going on our end."
After a 10-0 run to begin the second half, DSU opened up its largest lead of 14, and seemed ready to put the game away, but Bellevue answered with an 11-1 run to keep the game close. A couple of made free throws to end the third quarter for Bellevue's Caletria Curtis, who finished with 17, cut the lead all the way back down to four.
For Graupe, that sequence, along with a general inability to put away the game until the end, was a point of frustration.
"We jumped out on them to start the third quarter, we had a 14-point lead. I thought, 'finally,' but no, we got down again and let them creep back within two," Graupe said. "The defense in the end did OK, but it's disappointing with a group of seniors to be so disorganized at points."
The final shooting percentage for DSU was 48.3, much better than the 36.4 percent it held Bellevue to; none of those misses were more important than the 1 of 7 stretch the Blue Hawks defense pulled off to close the game, despite not having the nation's best rebounder.
"To me, Megan fouling out could have gone one of two ways. We could have shut down or use that to fool us," Bentz-Laub said. "I think we used it to help us. We just buckled down on defense more than anything, I think that's what got us through the game."
Dickinson State 68, Bellevue 54
B 16 18 11 9
DSU 19 19 11 19
Bellevue (7-4, 1-1 NSAA): Beth Walker 13, Cassidy Hubbs 8, Caletria Curtis 17, Taylor Cormier 5, Ryleigh McCartney 3, Angeliece Tucker 6, Alexandra Bader 2.
Dickinson State (5-3, 1-1 NSAA): Lorna Shepherd 12, MacKayla Feeney 5, Taylor Henningsgard 11, Ashley Bentz-Laub 17, Megan Klein 9, Paitton Herbst 7, Rachael McDonough 7.
Total fouls: B 16, DSU 15. Fouled out: DSU, Klein. 3-point goals: B 6-32 (Walker 1-3, Curtis 2-4, Cormier 0-2, McCartney 1-9, Shanae Collins 0-3, Sierra Roberts 0-1, Tucker 2-8, Bader 0-2), DSU 7-25 (Shepherd 1-6, Feeney 1-5, Henningsgard 1-1, Bentz-Laub 3-8, Klein 0-1, Herbst 1-3, McDonough 0-1). Rebounds: B 39 (Walker 10), DSU 43 (Klein 12). Assists: B 7 (Curtis 3), DSU 9 (Henningsgard 4). Steals: B 6 (three tied, 2), DSU 6 (Kate Golding 2). Blocks: B 1 (Curtis 1), DSU 1 (Henningsgard 1). Turnovers: B 14, DSU 11.