There are plenty of advantages to a home game. Friendly crowd. Familiar surroundings. No sleeping in a hotel.
But when the No. 17 Valley City State University mens basketball team started its season in November, one of the main goals the team had was to be undefeated at W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse, not necessarily for those reasons, but because it makes the teamâ€™s postseason goals more attainable.
â€śThatâ€™s one of the things we talked about going into the year â€” letâ€™s be really tough to beat here, because I think we lost five games here last year and that really kept us from accomplishing some of the things we wanted to last year,â€ť VCSU coach Jeff Kaminsky said Saturday following a win over Johnson and Wales (Colo.) University. â€śIf we win our games at home, weâ€™re going to be good enough on the road where weâ€™re going to be in pretty good shape at the end of the year.â€ť
So far, so good.
The Vikings spent the weekend at the Bubble and got wins over Association of Independent Institution opponents Northern New Mexico and Johnson and Wales to up their home record to 8-0 this season, with five home games left to play.
The Vikings beat Northern N.M. 71-62 Friday before beating JWU 70-53 Saturday.
In the Friday game, VCSU allowed the Eagle to go up 4-0 to start the game, but never let NNM take the lead back.
Sekani Milligen found his stride early, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half as Gus Kueber worked both inside and out. Both finished with 11 of the Vikings 38 points in the first half. Â But the 38-26 halftime lead was later narrowed.
But as the game continued, the Eagles worked back into it as the Vikings struggled from the floor, shooting only 8-27 in the second half. Northern N.M.â€™sÂ Illya Glover found his footing under the basket, grabbing seven rebounds in the second half, four offensive, the putting them back up to finish with 11 second-half points.
Northern N.M. narrowed the lead, but as the closing minutes approached, VCSU got the ball to guard John Raquel, who went 10-10 at the free throw line, many of those in the closing minutes to put it away.
Milligen led the Vikings with 17 points in the game and Kueber had 16. Raquel finished with 14 points, four steals, and four rebounds.
Saturday, the Vikings got a second chance to play Johnson and Wales, who beat the Vikings 74-69 last month.
â€śWe lost to Johnson and Wales earlier this season, so that was really frustrating for us,â€ť Kueber said. â€śWe really wanted to come out here and make a point that weâ€™re better than this team.â€ť
The Vikings used a high-tempo offense early to go up 13-3 and only gave JWU a lead when the Wildcats scored the first points of the game.
Much of the success offensively was from the 3-point line, where the Vikings shot 7-20 in the first half. Milligen led the Vikings with three 3-pointers in the first half, and was helped behind the arc by Patrick Rogers, who hit two in the half, along with Aaron Duske and Chris Embden, who each had one.
The strong shooting led to a 35-20 lead at halftime, and the Vikings got the lead as high as 22 points five minutes into the second half, which was foul heavy.
The second half included technical fouls to both the VCSU bench and JWUâ€™s Aaron Lampkin. Three players, two from JWU, later fouled out.
Milligen led VCSU with 22 points and Duske finished with 11.
With the final five weeks of the season approaching, Kaminsky said the main focus of the weekend was defense.
â€śWe needed to get two wins and really form an identity as we head down the stretch and a big focus of that for this weekend was to establish an identity defensively,â€ť â€śWe made our defensive goal both nights.â€ť
The goal included limiting their opponents to 62 points or less, which happened on both nights.
Backup point guard AJ McDonald, who had 10 points and 9 rebounds between the two games, also impressed Kaminsky. McDonald turned an ankle Thursday and wasnâ€™t expected to play.
â€śThe guyâ€™s leaving on crutches on Thursday and you donâ€™t think heâ€™s going to be playing on Friday, so give him a lot of credit for taking care of himself â€” I think he iced every hour there and really did everything he could to be able to play, and was really a big factor in our success,â€ť Kaminsky said.
Valley City State 71, Northern N.M. 62
Friday at Osmon Fieldhouse
NNM 26 36 â€” 62
VCSU 38 33 â€” 71
NNM: Glover 19 pts, 10 rebs, Britto 9 pts
VCSU: Sekani Milligen 17 pts, Gus Kueber 16Â pts, John Raquel 14 pts.
Valley City State 70, Johnson and Wales (Colo.) 53
Saturday at Osmon Fieldhouse
JWU 20 33 â€” 53
VCSU 35 35 â€” 70
JWU: Cedric Ennis 16 pts, Cody Derner 15 pts.
VCSU: Sekani Milligen 22 pts, 6 rebounds; Aaron Duske 11 pts, 3 assists