By Reece Hemmesch
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — The Minnesota State men’s basketball team overcame a shoddy start Friday night and used controlling defense in the final minutes to outlast the Southwest Minnesota State 77-68 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game Friday at Bresnan Arena.
With a down-to-the-wire finish and SMSU looking for a comeback, underdog victory, the Mavericks’ defense held its ground, stopping the Mustangs on nine of the final 10 possessions to defeat the South Division rivals.
“I thought we gave them a little of their own medicine in the second half with defense and toughness,” coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We were the tougher team in the second half. We were scoring all night long, but we needed to get some consistent stops and I thought our bench stepped up big.”
JUnior center Assem Marei agreed with his coach: “We can score at will but defensively we have to work hard every game. They ended up with huge finishes down the court so we just needed to stop that.”
Both teams found the base of their scoring in two players as the MSU tandem of Zach Monaghan and Marei finished with 23 and 21, respectively. Their counterpart came in the form of SMSU’s Matt Zager and William Giddings, who paced the Mustangs with 23 and 17 apiece.
Monaghan also finished with 11 assists for another double-double.
Zager was the catalyst for the Mustangs all evening, finishing 10 of 14 from the field and 3 of 4 from three-point range, something that Margenthaler believes makes him a solid force on offense.
“He’s a very versatile player, he got inside and outside, and when he’s knocking down his 3s, it makes him very tough to guard because he’s so good at getting to the basketball,” Margenthaler said.
The Mavericks were off to a slow start in the first, falling behind early and playing back-and-forth for the duration of the half. With
seconds remaining in the half and the game tied, Monaghan traveled the length of the court and drained a 3 to put MSU ahead 40-37.
The second half turned into a tenacious, hard-fought battle from the start where second chances and dives into the stands became common.
The Mavericks were outrebounded 20-15 in the first half but won the battle, finishing with the 36-35 advantage on the glass, a statistic that usually depicts the winner in MSU’s Northern Sun games.
“It was all effort,” Margenthaler said. “They were just going to get the basketball and scored 10 of their first 13 points on second-chance opportunities and they were just tougher. But I though we did a pretty good job.”
The Mavericks host Sioux Falls at 6 p.m. today.