Vikings make statement with win over NSIC favorite
Adam Beyer didn’t feel well at halftime.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you what I had,” the senior guard said. “For the last five minutes of the first half, and a little bit of the second half, I felt like I was going to throw up. But I knew how important of a game it was to our season, so I just didn’t think about it. … I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”
The second half was a statement for both Beyer and his team.
He scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half on 6-of-7 shooting. He played all 20 second-half minutes. Augustana beat Minnesota State-Mankato, 83-81, the Vikings’ 37th straight home win.
“I don’t know what was going on,” junior point guard Jordan Spencer said. “I just told him he needed to turn it on, and he did.”
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches picked the Mavericks to win the conference, Vikings head coach Tom Billeter included. But those coaches may have to rethink their position after No. 21 Augustana routed Concordia University 103-66 last Friday and added the gritty win over the Mavericks the next day to improve to 7-1 and 3-0 in the league.
“I love being an underdog,” Spencer said. “People predicting us not to win the conference was very offending. I took that as a personal hit that me, Adam, Zach [Huisken] and John [Warren] can’t lead this team to success. This year the same target is the national championship. We’re defending champions. If you don’t go in with the mentality of winning it again, then what are we playing for?”
Beyer and Spencer’s evolution has been requisite for the team’s early achievements. As the lone returning starters from last season’s national championship team, they are both averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists.
Spencer ranks eighth in Division II in assists and has increased his scoring output by seven points from last year. Beyer has put up consecutive 20-point games and has connected on 64.7 percent of his 3-pointers. They’ve combined to win the last two NSIC South Division Player of the Week awards.
“I understand that the role I have on this team is different from the one that I had the past three seasons,” Beyer said. “I’m just doing what the team needs. … Scoring more points is not a priority of mine—winning is.”
Spencer said being more comfortable in the offense and being given more responsibility has helped he and Beyer add more elements to their games.
But with everything that’s gone well, Augustana knows it’s a long way from a finished product. Billeter said the Minnesota State-Mankato win was the first time all season he felt his team put together two consistently good halves, and he’s “not even close” to being settled on his rotations.
“I think we can still get better,” Billeter said. “I don’t think we’re near what we’re going to be in January and February. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
“We didn’t play as good as we can [against Mankato],” he said. “That’s the exciting part with this team—we don’t know where our full potential is going to be at, but we definitely know we are not there yet.”
Augustana will have a good chance to maintain its conference lead as it plays two teams with losing records in the Minot State (4-5) on Friday and University of Mary (3-5) on Saturday. But Billeter sees the potential for a pair of trap games.
“Our guys have finals and papers and things, and we have to travel 520 miles to Minot,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to be this weekend. There’s a lot of reasons not to be sharp.”
Billeter said the team’s records aren’t indicative of their talent level, as Minot lost a close game on the road to Minnesota State-Moorhead (7-1) and Mary beat Northern State on the road, traditionally one of the toughest arenas for NSIC opponents to play in.
As the Vikings begin to dip their toes into the NSIC schedule, they’re embracing their role as the team with a target on its back. And while they have been clicking early, they know they’re capable of more.
“We aren’t out of second gear yet,” Spencer said.