HANCOCK - If effort was alone enough to ensure a victory, the Finlandia University men's basketball team would have walked away on the positive side of the ledger in its home opener Thursday evening versus Minnesota-Crookston.
Instead, it was the visitors who registered a hard-fought 81-75 win at Paavo Nurmi Gym.
"We came in a little banged-up, no doubt about that," Lions' skipper Terry Smith commented afterward. "We had to use four freshmen a lot tonight ... and they played really well. I can't find any fault with our effort in this game."
The much taller Golden Eagles used their size advantage to command a 54-38 margin on the boards. But the Minnesota squad clearly had problems with Finlandia's up-tempo brand of basketball.
"We won't see that kind of style the rest of the season," UM-C coach Jeff Oseth noted. "In our conference (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference), the brand of basketball is more to set it up and pound the ball inside."
The locals dropped behind for good about eight minutes into the game, And although they cut the deficit to two points on several occasions, they never could regain the lead.
MINN-CROOKSTON - James Sparkman 9, Kradalic Almir 13, Abdou Niad 11, Brandon Burns 18, Justin Rake 12, Tim Lubke 8, Derrick Redd 8, Tomas Parker 2. FG: 28-60; FT: 24-37; Rebounds: 54 (Niang 22); Fouls: 21; Fouled out: Almir.
FINLANDIA - Dominic Morrow 2, Jon Moore 17, Swartzen Jarmond 14, Ben Coleman 4, Alante Denson 13, Dylan Shroeder 12, Marvin Ay-Bamah 7, Anthony Cowell 2, Darius Butler 3, Charron McCain 1. FG: 26-71; FT:13-21; Rebounds: 38 (Coleman 6); Fouls: 29; Fouled out: Coleman.
Halftime score: UMC 46, Finlandia 42.
"They (Golden Eagles) did a good job of running plays and keeping the lead when we pressed them," Smith said. "I think their size inside played a role in that."
Six-foot-10 senior center Abdou Niang was a major thorn in the side of the Lions, grabbing a game-high 22 rebounds to go along with 11 rebounds.
Finlandia opened the game well enough, taking early 7-2 and 10-4 leads.
But the Minnesota outfit took the lead at 12-10 on a bucket by Brandon Burns and never looked back.
After falling back by ten points, FU used a salvo of three-point baskets to close the half down by just a 46-42 reading.
Freshman Dylan Schroeder nailed a pair of treys and Jon Moore tossed in a buzzer-beating triple to spark the rally.
"We have a lot of guys who can shoot three's," Smith noted. "We can score points in a hurry."
The eventual winners hurried out to a 8-point spread to begin the second portion of the game -- only to see the Lions get back into the game.
"Finlandia kept coming at us," Oseth said. "I give them a lot of credit for that."
A pair of free throws by FU freshman guard Alante Denson sliced the margin to 60-58 midway through the second half.
UMC quickly got the lead back to 68-62 behind hoops by Burns and James Sparkman, and then fended off a final Finlandia rally.
Moore paced the Lions with 17 points and handed out four assists. Swartzen Jarmond added 14 points, Denson tossed in 13 and Shroeder (Brimley) notched 12 more on four triples. Ben Coleman grabbed a team-high 6 rebounds.
The 2-0 Golden Eagles were led by Burns with 18 markers. Krdalic Almir put in 13 more and Justin Rake contributed 12.
The Lions travel to Northern Michigan University on Saturday. Their next home game will be next Wednesday against Bemidji State.