By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
With his young team on a three-game losing streak, Mankato East boys basketball head coach Joe Madson would have preferred facing a less-equipped opponent than the undefeated defending Big Nine Conference champions.
“I don’t know if there’s many cupcakes on our schedule,” Madson said, “but there are a lot of other teams we would’ve been better off playing tonight than Austin.”
Madson’s squad kept the score close in the first half, but Austin — ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AAA — pulled away in the second half, defeating the Cougars 72-36 Tuesday at the East gym.
The Cougars struggled early adjusting to Austin’s trap defense but were able to absorb the blows and briefly take a 12-10 lead midway through the first half on a Matt Bornholdt jumper.
Trailing 21-15 late in the half, East’s Josh Sloniker hit a 3-pointer to pull within three. But Austin scored the final five points of the half, capped by Collin Weisert’s rebound layup at the buzzer, to put the halftime score at 30-20.
"Our first 14 minutes, we couldn’t have asked our kids to do a whole lot more than what they did,” Madson said. “The last three minutes of the first half were huge. Once it got to 10 (at halftime), I knew the first five minutes of the second half were going to be so vital.”
Austin’s Zach Wessels, who scored a game high 22 points, posted two early layups, followed by Weisert’s corner 3-pointers. Just like Madson had feared: Five minutes into the half, the Packers had padded the lead to 45-27.
“They’re a good team, no question about that,” Madson said. “It’s a tall order. They’ve got three very good players and some other kids who knocked down some shots for them.”
East had no answer for Austin’s front-line combo of Tom Aase and Joe Aase, allowing numerous second-chance buckets. Turnovers (29 in the game, 17 in the second half) also proved crippling.
“They got some easy looks, and we didn’t block out well at all,” Madson said. “Turnovers obviously hurt us, and we can’t have that. We didn’t stay patient and under control; a lot of it was just handing (the ball) to them. You just can’t let down against a good team.”
A pair of Austin 3-pointers put the deficit out of reach for the Cougars, who were led by Yasim Omar’s 10 points and Mattu Chuol’s eight points.
“Mattu’s a good player and he did some good things for us,” Madson said. “He’s an athletic kid who we need to get going.”
Madson added his team’s dearth of varsity experience has been underscored during the Cougars’ losing streak.
“All three of the last teams we’ve faced have brought back a lot of kids who have played varsity for a few years,” he said. “We’ve been going against a lot of experience, and our youth has shown.”
Mankato East (1-4) plays Friday at home versus Holy Family, while Austin (5-0) plays Friday at Red Wing.