By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — It didn’t take long for Mankato East boys basketball coach Joe Madson to put a positive spin on a 73-56 nonconference loss Saturday afternoon to highly regarded Marshall at the East gym.
Afterall, the Tigers (12-2) forced running time in a 73-36 rout of East three weeks ago at the Marshall Holiday Tournament and were coming in off a rare loss to Willmar in their last outing. This time, the pesky Cougars hung around for much of the contest, matching Marshall point for point through the first half and trailing just 57-52 with seven minutes remaining.
“We’re taking care of the ball much better and not having so many empty possessions,” Madson said. “We were a turnover waiting to happen at the start of the year, and now we’re starting to play more under control. They beat us silly the first time, and we weren’t going to let them do it again.”
East (3-12) looked like it might be in for a repeat of the first meeting when the Tigers reeled off the first seven points — Hunter Peterson's 3-pointer and baskets from Riley Sharbono and Aaron Mathiowetz — and maintained a 19-12 lead when Peterson converted an 8-footer in the lane midway through the first half.
However, sharp-shooting senior guard Yasin Omar and hard-working senior forward Brandon Adema keyed a 19-12 surge that drew the Cougars even at 31 on Omar's 30-foot triple at the halftime buzzer. Omar fired in four 3-pointers in scoring 15 points over the first 18 minutes, while Adema nailed a pair of free-throw line jumpers and an aggressive putback.
“Coach Madson is a very good coach, and he's really stuck with his kids,” Tigers coach Travis Carroll said. “He’s helped his team on both ends of the floor to become a better team. We’ve noticed they’ve been playing better lately so we knew coming in they'd be a different team. They came out and proved that.”
Marshall knocked down its first nine shots of the second half — including two 3-pointers from senior forward Tanner Bukowski and another from Derek Buysse — to open up a 53-38 advantage on Austin Saugstad's driving hoop with 11:12 to go. Sharbono chipped in two baskets — a 16-footer and an inbound layup over a two-second stretch — and Saugstad turned a loose-ball scramble into a three-point play in the stretch.
Omar, who led all scorers with 27 points, then fired in two top-of-the-key 3-pointers and a pair of foul shots before a basket from Adema and two free throws each from Omar and sophomore guard Mattu Chuol trimmed the deficit to 57-52.
Chuol and Adema put through 10 points apiece for the Cougars, who connected on 20 of 41 from the field for 48.7 percent.
Buysse's layup then fueled a 16-2 burst to close things out. Peterson and Bukowski tallied 13 points each for the Tigers, who also received 12 points apiece from Mathiowetz and Saugstad. Buysse finished with 11 points, and Sharbono chipped in 10 points for the well-balanced Tigers. Marshall shot at a 65.7 percent clip, making 28 of 38 shots and 16 of 18 attempts in the second half.
“I think were a lot more patient and are playing with more confidence,” Omar said. “We’re keeping our heads up and playing together. You can see us getting better game by game. I was calm, patient and when I got open I just hit the shots. My teammates helped me a lot by getting me the ball.”
Marshall won the boards 20-17, and the Cougars committed one more turnover 13-12.
East plays Tuesday at Austin.