By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Two days after nearly stunning national power St. Thomas, the Bethany Lutheran men’s basketball team took a step backwards at the Sports and Fitness Center Wednesday night in falling to previously winless St. Mary’s 59-55 in a nonconference game.
Bethany never seemed to get into an offensive flow and spotted the Cardinals a 22-10 advantage 14 minutes into the contest.
Mike Burfeind, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, led the early surge for St. Mary’s and ended up with a game-high 28 points. Burfeind showed his versatility by draining a 3-pointer, putting through a pair of medium range jumpers and converting a head-on driving hoop early on.
“We really played well within our system,” Burfeind said. “We’ve been stagnant with our offense lately and tonight we really moved the ball well.
“We’ve had leads before this year but didn’t know what to do with them. Tonight, we didn’t back down at all and kept pushing it at them. ... We’re a good team and it’s about time we get a win.”
Bethany (2-7) managed to overcome its sluggish shooting from the field to draw even at 23 behind senior guard Derek Peterson’s eight first-half points and senior guard Garrett Benson’s three-point play and buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the left baseline. Peterson finished with a team-best 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists while Benson scored 11 points, including another 3-pointer in the second half.
“We came out slow and it seemed like we had to battle back the whole time,” Peterson said. “That put us in a position where we kind of got out of rhythm offensively and we didn’t get a lot of second chances like we normally do.”
Peterson’s two slicing drives to the basket sparked an early second-half burst that produced a 32-27 Vikings’ lead when Benson rattled in a 3-pointer off the left baseline with 15:36 remaining. Bethany maintained its lead behind three inside hoops from senior forward Gavin Kroehler and a three-point play from senior guard Alex Weldon.
However, Burfeind tallied a three-point play on a head-on 7-footer to ignite his nine-point flurry that put the Cardinals in front 52-48 with 3:40 to go. Peterson’s banker off an inbound pass and Kroehler’s steal and driving hoop tied things before Will Swiggum’s three-point play off a feed from Burfeind gave the Cardinals a 55-52 advantage with 2:37 left.
Bethany couldn’t come up with an answer down the stretch as Tom Gores’ three foul shots and another by Swiggum sealed things. Bensen put through 11 points for the Vikings, who also got eight points each from Weldon and Kroehler.
Bethany connected on just 20 of 55 from the field for 36.4 percent compared the Cardinals’ 18 of 48 for 37.5 percent.
“I thought we looked a little fatigued,” Bethany coach Dave Balza said. “We had eight misses at one time two feet from the basket and that’s legs. Those are excuses and we talk about making plays and not excuses.
“I don’t think we were taking bad shots, we just didn’t finish the shots we took. This team isn’t any different than we were Monday night or a week ago. We just have to work on being a little stronger.”
Bethany plays at Carleton in Northfield on Friday.