By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
An inexperienced Mankato East boys basketball team turned a potential train wreck into a positive outing Friday night before falling to Holy Family Catholic 74-58 in a nonconference game at the East gym.
Holy Family (3-2) rocketed out to an 11-0 lead three minutes into the contest behind Colton Stenerson’s baseline 3-pointer and four transition baskets — including a slam dunk by junior guard Brent Hentges — off Cougar turnovers. East finished with 26 turnovers compared to 23 for the Fire.
“We just came together and played harder after the bad start,” East senior guard Yasin Omar said. “We kept fighting and coach told us to slow down and be patient. We have to be more consistent but I think this showed that we can play at a high level.
“This was the best game we’ve had all season at getting into the flow of the game. I got open and knocked down some shots. ... I am very confident in myself.”
East (1-5) finally found the scoreboard when senior guard Abdi Ali buried a right-side 3-pointer and junior guard Josh Sloniker followed with a triple off the left wing. After 6-foot-9 sophomore center Justin Dahl converted a three-point play for the Fire, five points each from sophomore guard Mattu Chuol and Omar sparked a 16-4 Cougars’ run that produced a 22-18 lead late in the half.
Junior wing Joe Hanel, who led the Fire with a career-high 37 points, then worked the paint for a three-point play before Matt Tucci’s cutting-to-the-basket layup and left wing 3-pointer gave Holy Family a 27-24 advantage at the break. Hanel, who totaled five three-point plays and made 10 of 15 foul shots, put through nine first-half points while Omar paced the Cougars with nine.
“We had a miserable start and a miserable finish,” East coach Joe Madson said. “But we also had our largest stretch of playing well this year.
“Yasim carried us offensively but we did some good things in the first half when he wasn’t as much of a factor. Defensively, we forced them into a lot of perimeter shots which I don’t think they wanted. Once they established Hanel in the middle we weren’t able to handle him.”
Omar, who fired in what is believed to be a school-record nine 3-pointers, blistered the nets the entire second half as the Cougars built a 45-38 lead on Chuol’s seven-point flurry with 11 minutes to go. However, Hanel’s smooth moves inside resulted in three three-point plays as the Fire pulled away down the stretch despite Omar’s long-range prowess.
“Yasin Omar is a great player and he shot them back in the game,” said Hanel, a 13 of 16 shooter. “They settled down and ran their stuff to stop our rally.”
Omar ended up connecting on 10 of 20 from the field, including 9 of 15 from beyond the arc. Chuol scored 10 points for the Cougars, who got five assists from Brandon Adema and four rebounds from Walabu Bati.
East was 17 of 49 shooting for 35 percent while the Fire hit on 27 of 48 for 56 percent. Dahl totaled 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots for the winners.
HFC won the boards 33-28.
East plays at Marshall in a holiday tournament on Wednesday.