By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Minnesota State defeated Winona State 78-70 at home in December in a game that had some pace.
Winona State defeated the Mavericks 75-64 at Winona last month is a game that got very physical.
Tonight, the teams settle the season series in the Central Region men’s basketball championship game. The tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bresnan Arena.
“I think both teams are playing as well as they have all season,” Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. “These are the two best teams in the region, and it’s going to be fun. Both teams know each other very well, so you’re going to have to execute at a high level.”
Minnesota State shot 40.9 percent and made 8 of 16 3-pointers in its Dec. 7 home win against Winona State. The Mavericks also had a 43-35 rebounding advantage. Jarvis Williams and Zach Monaghan each scored 17 points.
“We just need to defend and get out on their shooters,” Monaghan said. “We need to rebound so we can get going in transition.”
Winona State, playing without senior guard Grant Johnson, shot 53.8 percent but only shot 33.3 percent in the second half. Xavier Humphrey was the top scorer with 21 points, and Clayton Vette had 14 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s very important that we establish how we want to play,” junior Connor O’Brien said. “We need to get on the boards and get some stops. We’re pretty good when we do that.”
In the rematch on Feb. 16 at Winona, the Warriors were the more physical team, shooting 59.3 percent in the second half to pull away. Vette had 19 points, and Humphrey added 16.
The Mavericks had 14 turnovers and were outrebounded by three, shooting 43.1 percent but just 1 of 7 from 3-point range. Gage Wooten led the team with 13 points, one more than Assem Marei.
“If we make a couple, that’s a nice boost for our confidence, and it gets the crowd into the game,” Monaghan said. “But we can’t forget about going inside.”
A big crowd is expected at Bresnan Arena. The Warriors have five key seniors who have played in a lot of big games, though none were around during the national-championship run. The Mavericks have a lot of players experiencing this hype for the first time. O’Brien and guard Jimmy Whitehead are the only holdovers from the 2011 national semifinalists.
“It should be a great game,” O’Brien said. “This is what we’ve worked for all season, and it would be great to have the crowd’s support. We deserve it.”
Two years ago, in the region championship game against Fort Lewis, the attendance was 3,926, the sixth-largest crowd in arena history, and that was a factor in the 81-63 victory. The Mavericks are hoping for a similar boost tonight.
“We’re playing good basketball right now, and it should be a fun game,” Monaghan said. “I hope the Taylor Center is rocking.”