By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
A fresh Minnesota State men’s basketball team flexed its muscles Saturday night at Mankato’s Bresnan Arena, overwhelming Minnesota-Duluth 89-54 behind a career-high 26 points from Tanner Adler
Assem Marei had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game.
“I thought we were as focused this weekend as we have been all year,” Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. “I think the (Christmas) break was good for us both mentally and physically. We seemed to get our legs back, and mentally we were more in tune to what we were doing. January and February are the months we have to put the work in so we can have fun in March.
“Defensively, I think it was a combination of them not making shots and us getting our arms up to make them shoot contested shots. We mixed our defenses up more than we have all season long. Offensively, we’re shooting the ball real well right now, and we’ve been in a nice flow so hopefully we can stay in that.”
Minnesota State (13-2, 7-1 in NSIC) looked like it would run the Bulldogs off the floor in the early stages as Marei’s six-point, five-rebound flurry led a game-opening 13-4 surge. However, the Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5) stormed back to grab a 14-13 advantage on Peter Crawford’s three-point play and two foul shots from Jordan Reetz with 12:43 remaining.
After Zach Romashko’s elbow jumper regained the lead for the Mavericks, Marei’s two inside baskets along with Connor O’Brien’s transition layup ignited a half-ending 23-14 run that produced a 42-27 lead at the break. Marei poured through 16 first-half points for the Mavericks while Adler and Zach Monaghan netted eight points apiece. Adler dropped through a pair of 3-pointers, and Monaghan drained all six of his foul shots. Minnesota State was a plus-13 at the free-throw line.
“When you have a guy lilke Assem getting double-teamed it really opens it up for the shooters,” said Adler, who connected on 10 of 14 field-goal attempts and 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. “We did everything we wanted to do tonight and really executed our plays. We were attacking their man-to-man and going after their big guys because we had size on them.
“We kept getting the ball down low, and they couldn’t stop our posts one-on-one. We played our gaps well defensively, and our big guys shut their posts down. When that happens you can run out in transition. I kind of struggled with my shooting (Friday) so tonight I knew I had to bring it.”
Marei’s lone bucket of the second half — a driving banker — got things stared for the Mavericks, and quickly, the cushion grew to 62-36 on Mike Busack’s left-wing triple with 13:12 to go. O’Brien finished with 11 points and a team-best 10 boards for the winners, who also received eight points and a team-high 10 assists from Monaghan. Busack chipped in 11 points, and Romashko totaled 10.
“We’re really deep, and we know what to do offensively,” Marei said. “We just let the game come to us, and we really worked hard defensively this weekend. My teammates do a great job of finding me in the post and them move around me. We knew they couldn’t keep up with because of how deep we are. ... We just stuck with it.”
Duluth, which made just 19 of 63 shots from the field for 30.6 percent, was led by Crawford’s 16 points. Minnesota State, which dominated the boards 52-30, fired in 29 of 56 from the field for 51.8 percent.
Minnesota State plays Friday at Northern State.