The Free Press, Mankato, MN


March 17, 2013

MSU downs Harding, advances to championship game

MANKATO — Jarvis Williams, Assem Marei, Zach Monaghan, Gage Wooten and Connor O’Brien.

Take your pick. Each of them can beat you, and most of the time they do. The bench? Don’t forget about the bench.

“We have so much versatility,” Minnesota State men’s basketball coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We can go big, we can go small. We have guys on the bench itching to get in there.

“One of our struggles is to find playing time for everyone. Guys have relinquished their roles to help the team win.”

A 12-point run late in the first half allowed Minnesota State to open a double-digit lead, and the Mavericks stayed on top the rest of the way in an 86-65 victory over Harding University in the semifinals of the  NCAA Division II Central Region men’s basketball tournament Sunday at Bresnan Arena.

Williams, Wooten and Assem Marei each scored 16 points for the Mavericks, who outrebounded Harding 39-20. Connor O’Brien scored 12.

“I try to take advantage of my opportunities,” Wooten said. “I just want to win. I fell into a good opportunity here at Minnesota State.

The Mavericks were pretty good in the first half, shooting 51.7 percent. Marei already had 12 points, but the lead was only 23-20. Wooten scored with an assist from Marei, then Monaghan drilled a 3-pointer. Monaghan’s second 3 capped a 12-point run that made it 35-20 with two minutes left in the half.

“We really wanted to get after it and give it our all,” Williams said. “We had them down, and we didn’t want to give them life.”

Harding was able to pull within eight with 12 minutes to play, but Wooten splashed a 3-pointer to restore a comfortable margin. The Mavericks, who shot 63.6 percent in the second half, were able to get the bench involved in the final 11 minutes.

“This is something I’ve never experienced,” Williams said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes. Coach and my teammates are going to do whatever it takes.”

Harding was led by Andraz Kavas with 15 points. The Bisons shot 45.8 percent but made just 6 of 21 from 3-point range.

“That was a pretty good basketball team we beat tonight,” Margenthaler said. “It might have been our best defensive effort of the season.

“Our guys are dialed in right now. When we’re dialed in defensively, there’s no one better.”

Minnesota State (28-4), the No. 1 seed, takes on second-seeded Winona State in the region championship game at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bresnan Arena. The teams split during the regular season, with each team winning on its home court.

No question, this is the game everyone wanted to see,” Margenthaler said. “The No. 1 seed against No. 2. It’s going to be fun. These guys have worked hard for this, and we have to finish the deal.”

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