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Cougar men suffer loss to unbeaten Bethany

The University of Minnesota, Morris men's basketball team suffered their second heartbreaking loss to unbeaten and league leader Bethany Lutheran Saturday, seeing a second-half lead melt away in the final minutes of a 71-63 defeat.

The Cougars are 8-12 overall and 5-5 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC). The Vikings are 12-9 overall and 10-0 in the UMAC.

The Cougars led by two at the break, and maintained their lead for the majority of the second. They even stretched their advantage to as much as six at the 6:35 mark when Derek Schmidt connected for two of his team-high 18.

For the fifth time this season, he tied his career high with 18, pushing his scoring average to its highest of the season at 14.0 per game.

After seeing the lead slip to three, the Cougars responded with a huge Logan Orazem three-pointer with five minutes left and looked to have the Vikings on the ropes. Then after a 7-0 Viking run to take the lead, the Cougars again answered, this time with another bucket by Schmidt, going back up by one with less than four minutes left.

In the two teams' first match-up, the Vikings needed a buzzer-beater to force overtime, before winning after the extra five minutes. The only unbeaten in the UMAC and conference leader with a two-game lead, Bethany has won the rest of their conference games by an average of 17 points.

The Vikings overtook the lead for good with 3:10 to go on a pair of Gavin Kroehler free throws. Over the final three minutes they successful ground out the clock and took advantage of a pair of ill-timed Cougar misses to maintain their lead.

After shooting 52 percent (12-of-23) from the field in the first half, the Cougars were even better in the second half, hitting 55 percent (12-of-22) of their shots, but they got to the line just seven times all game. The Vikings countered with a 16-of-21 mark at the stripe, and turned the ball over just five times compared to 16 for the Cougars as they came back for the win.

Schmidt was joined on the leader board by Orazem with 12 points and Zach Meyer with 10.

The Cougars will play one final nonconference game on Tuesday when they head to North Central, before starting a four-game home stretch to close out conference play and the season. Starting this weekend, they host Crown on Feb. 10 at 7:30 and Northwestern on Feb. 11 at 5 p.m.