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Cougars let 1-point halftime lead slip away to Vikings

A big second half by host Valley City State sent the University of Minnesota, Morris home with a 77-67 loss Tuesday.

The host Vikings overcame a 33-32 halftime deficit to outscore the Cougars 45-34 in the second half on their way to the win.

The Cougars were taking the court for the first time since Dec. 17 when UMM topped VCSU 87-76 at home.

In the opening game of 2011, however, the Vikings got their revenge, shooting better than 53 percent (26-of-49) from the floor with nine players factoring in the scoring, including five with nine or more points.

Tom Barrett had a breakout game to lead the Cougars, finishing with a career-high 17 points to lead all scorers. Barrett had 13 of his points in the second half as the Cougars battled against the Viking comeback.

Kyle Bruns and Steve Birman each chipped in 11 to join the scoring leaders. Birman tied a season-long streak with his third straight game in double figures, while Bruns hit double-digits for the first time since the season opener. 

The Cougars were held to under 44 percent (25-of-57) from the floor and went to the free-throw line just 16 times, compared to 23 for the Vikings. And when the Vikings got their chances, they took advantage, going 20-of-23 (.870) from the charity stripe for the game.

As the Vikings finished with a 53 percent mark shooting from the field, they made their mark down low. VCSU scored 30 points in the paint compared to just 18 for UMM. The Cougars controlled the lane to a 14-to-12 margin in the first half as they took the halftime lead, but the Vikings turned the tables in the second half and held an 18-to-4 margin en route to the comeback.

With the non-conference season in the rearview, the Cougars will now set their sights on the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.  Picked in the pre-season to win the 2011 league title, the Cougars will begin their chase at home Tuesday when they host Presentation at 7:30 p.m.

After the conference opener, the Cougars stay at home the following weekend, welcoming Northwestern and Crown to Jim Gremmels Court as they continue conference play on Jan. 14 and 15, respectively