Pegged as preseason favorites in the NSIC, Minnesota State University-Moorhead showed why on Friday night, especially in the second half.

Down at halftime at the McDowell Activity Center, the Dragons outscored the University of Mary 19-8 in the third and rode it to a 64-54 victory.

The Marauders led 26-25 at halftime over the conference favorites, but struggled offensively in the third quarter.

“You can’t score eight points in a quarter and expect to beat a team like Moorhead,” U-Mary head coach Rick Neumann said. “You hold a team in the Northern Sun to 64 points, you’re giving yourself a chance. We got the shots we wanted in the third quarter, we just couldn’t get them to drop.”

Cassie Askvig turned in a stellar performance for the Marauders, who also held the preseason NSIC player of the year (Drew Sannes) to just four points.

“Cassie played really well,” Neumann said.

It was the NSIC opener for the Dragons, who improved to 4-1 on the season.

“If you had told me Sannes would score four points and we’d win by 10, I’d say you’re crazy,” MSUM head coach Karla Olson said. “Mary had our full attention. In no way, shape or form did we think this was going to be a cakewalk.”

Tight from the opening tip, the Dragons carved out some breathing room with a third-quarter run.

After Christal Hearn’s driving bucket brought the Marauders within 33-32 midway through the frame, MSU Moorhead scored 11 of the next 13 points.

Already up five, Jacky Volkert drove the lane and kicked to a wide open Brooklyn Liegel, who hit only net for a 42-34 Dragon lead.

“We’re not where we need to be. Actually, we’ve kind of been struggling to find ourselves, but I thought in the second half we did some good things. More than anything, we got a lot of good contributions from a lot of different kids, including some of our younger players,” Olson said. “Winning on the road, especially against good teams, is not easy to do. We’ll definitely take it.”

Volkert, the Dragons’ talented junior point guard, picked up the slack for Sannes. The Arden Hills, Minn., product totaled 25 points, five assists and three steals.

The Marauders kept it interesting late.

Three-pointers from Lauren Rotunda and Dani Williams in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter whittled the deficit to 48-42.

Later, Askvig sliced through three defenders to make it 60-53. Rotunda hit a free throw 20 seconds later to make it 60-54 with 33 ticks left. But Moorhead got a breakaway layup from Megan Hintz on the ensuing in-bounds play to ice it.

Askvig poured in 25 points for the Marauders on 9 of 15 shooting. The sophomore from Minot also had six rebounds and two assists. Rotunda had a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Gabbie Bohl finished with 11, but had a rare off night shooting (5-for-17).

“As long as we keep improving and concentrating we’ll give ourselves good chances to win games,” Neumann said. “We seem to struggle from the 3 one night, then have trouble around the rim the next game. The encouraging thing is we’re getting good shots.”

It doesn’t get much easier for the Marauders with Northern State, picked second in the conference, at home today 4 p.m.

”We gotta keep our head up. We’re still starting three sophomores and a freshman,” Neumann said. “We’re going to be tested against these high-quality teams for sure, but I liked how we competed tonight, we just have to be able to convert on a few more shots.”

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