By Reece Hemmesch
Special to The Free Press
---- — By Reece Hemmesch
Special to The Free Press
Senior Gage Wooten finished with a season-high 25 points while junior Zach Monaghan tallied 21 as the MSU men’s basketball team fired on all cylinders Friday night, defeating the St. Cloud State Huskies 97-77 in its first action of 2014.
Wooten ended the evening hitting 11 of 12 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 behind the arc to fuel the win. All totaled, five Mavericks reach double digits in scoring. MSU shot 55.9 percent from the field, including 12 of 20 from 3-point range.
Wooten has now been the Mavericks’ leading scorer in their last two games as he finished with 23 against Concordia St. Paul in MSU’s last contest before the winter break.
“I thought we played awfully well,” head coach Matt Margenthaler said after the win. “St. Cloud really came out with a purpose early, they shot the ball well but we weathered that storm.”
Wooten agreed: “St. Cloud actually came out pretty strong in the first half but we came out good on the defensive end in the second half to get the win.”
Monaghan scored MSU’s balanced scoring was a big difference.
‘“When you got Gage Wooten on one side, Tanner Adler on the other side, Assem (Marei) down low and Connor (O’Brien) finding the open spot, it’s so hard to pick your poison against us,” he said. “We got really good shots and moved the ball well. When we’re unselfish we’re really tough to beat.”
Monaghan’s 20-point performance came as he sunk five of six 3’s and delivered nine assists. Marei’s inside play was also overpowering as SCSU had no answer in height for him. He ended with 17 on the night and seven rebounds.
Junior Mike Busack finished with 13, going 4 of 5 from downtown. The senior O’Brien ended up with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Mavericks spent the bulk of the first half trailing the Huskies as the backcourt play of SCSU guards Jordan Poydras and Damarius Cruz played every minute of the session and combined for 20 of the Huskies’ first 40 points. As the half dwindled down, the two stellar guards began to as well while the Mavericks found more open shots and Monaghan and Wooten began to heat up.
MSU hit the locker room up 45-40 and never looked back, getting on a 15-4 run to begin the second half. Soon the shooting of Wooten and Monaghan mixed with the inside play of Marei became too much for the Huskies and the Mavericks continued to build their lead.
Cruz and Poydras were limited in the second half, giving Monaghan the advantage on the outside as he totaled eight in the second half to finish with 20, something Margenthaler credits to the fatigue of the two after the first.
“They came out and shot the ball well early but they got tired at the end because they had to play so many minutes,” Margenthaler said. “Defensively we ran them around a bit just to get them tired, but they’re two really good players.”
Monaghan concurred: “They’re talented players, who both shoot the ball real well. We made an effort to get out to Cruz more and that helped.”
Cruz finished with 15 and Poydras ended with 11 as the Mavericks held the two guards to a combined six points in the second half. Forward Matt Craggs led all Huskies’ scorers with 19 points and junior Connor Niehaus helped out with 11.
Overall it was Wooten who applied the constant dagger to the Huskies as his all-around play presented a problem all evening. He played inside as well as outside and helped himself to five rebounds in the rout.
MSU hosts Minnesota Duluth tonight at 6 p.m. at Bresnan Arena.