Cougars begin conference schedule with home win

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - On his birthday and during Thanksgiving weekend, University of Sioux Falls Men's Basketball Head Coach Chris Johnson picked up the 200th win of his career as the Cougars recorded a 74-56 decision over Southwest Minnesota State (3-4, 0-1 NSIC) in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener at the Stewart Center.

At the heart of the victory was, as Johnson termed it, "a gritty performance by a bunch of guys that wanted to win." As a result, the Cougars moved to 5-2 overall this season and opened the NSIC with a victory in their home league opener as they stand 1-0. It was also USF's fifth win in eight NSIC home openers.

"It was a nice bounce back from Tuesday (nonconference loss to Minnesota Crookston) where I thought we played our worst game of the year and responded with our best (game) of the year. I thought we defended and rebounded the ball really well. And, I thought we got back to our identity," said Johnson, who is now 200-144 at USF and 216-159 in his career.

Leading the way for USF was redshirt sophomore forward Chase Grinde who had 19 points, seven rebounds and an assist, steal and block in 35 minutes on the floor. The Spring Grove, Minn., native hit 7-of-8 field goals and his only three-point shot. Grinde, who had his 10th career double-digit scoring game, was also 4-of-6 at the foul line.

"I was really proud of the way that Chase (Grinde) performed tonight. He was assertive and played his heart out with a lot of gritty play. It is the best I have seen Chase play in a Cougars uniform," added Johnson, whos team will travel for NSIC games at Concordia St. Paul on Friday, Dec. 6 and Minnesota State on Saturday, Dec. 7.

USF also had double digits from three others which included junior guard Will Lybaek, who had 14 points for his fourth double-digit game of the season. He was 5-of-8 from the floor. USF had career-highs from both freshman guard Jack Thompson and sophomore guard Troy Houghton who both scored 10 points. Thompson also had four rebounds, assist and a steal. Junior forward Austin Slater added eight points, nine rebounds, and two assists.

USF trailed early 8-2 but rallied back to within 32-30 at halftime. In the second half, USF dominated by outscoring their travel partners, 44-24, as they improved their home mark against SMSU to 12-5 and cut the all-time series to 21-13.

Key to the game for USF was solid shooting, strong rebounding, and tough defense. The Cougars, which hit 12-of-20 shots for 60 percent in the second half, made 23-of-46 shots for 50 percent. While they were just 3-of-13 on three-pointers, the Cougars converted 25-of-33 free throws for 75.8 percent while owning a 41-19 advantage on the boards. USF's dominance on the boards was led by Grinde, Slater and Teathloach Pal, who had a game-high 13 boards along with eight points, a steal, and block. Pal now has double digits in rebounds for the 10th time in his career.

SMSU, which was 19-of-49 from the field for 38.8 percent, was led by Nick Default with 17 points while Cliff McCray had 14 points. The Mustangs made 7-of-21 from the three-point range and 11-of-15 from the foul line.