By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Alex Knutson was a freshman the last time that Mankato West defeated Mankato East in boys basketball, so even though it wasn’t a pretty victory, it was sweet.
“Any time you beat your rival, especially on the big stage here at MSU, it’s always nice,” Knutson said.
West defeated East 56-45 Tuesday night at Bresnan Arena, but a double-digit halftime lead turned into a real struggle over the last eight minutes of the Big Nine Conference game. The Cougars picked up the fullcourt pressure, and it took a while for the Scarlets to respond.
“We had the double-digit halftime lead, and sometimes, it’s hard to play with a big lead,” West coach Tom Boone said. “I thought we got a little too cautious, but I give East credit. They got to the loose balls that I want us to get, and they rebounded well. We have to get a little better in those areas.”
West led the entire game, going up 23-13 on Kennedy Maker’s 3-pointer with 8:20 left in the first half, and the lead grew to 11 on three occasions, including 29-18 at halftime.
“I give East credit because they didn’t put their heads down when they were behind at halftime,” Knutson said. “We knew we had to respond, and eventually we did.”
Down 13, East scored nine straight, with five from Yasin Omar, but that was as close as it got. Up 48-43, West put together a six-point run in the final two minutes for the victory.
“We had two huge turnovers in the second when we were down five, and we didn’t get a shot,” East coach Joe Madson said. “That just kills you. We got a 10-point game down to five pretty quickly, but we just struggled too much to score. You need a couple easy baskets, and we didn’t get many of those tonight.”
Carter Burmeister led West with 12 points, including a key three-point play in the final five minutes. Knutson and Austin Majeskie each scored eight, and Majeskie had six rebounds.
“We’ve had some changes in our rotation and starting lineup, and the guys who are working hard and doing good things are going to play,” Boone said. “That’s helped us build a little depth so if someone’s having an off night, we have other guys to fill in. It would be nice if we didn’t have any adversity, but it was also nice to have some adversity tonight and be able to fight through it.”
Omar led East with 15 points, and Brandon Adema scored 10. Matt Bornholdt and Mattu Chuol each had six rebounds.
West (7-5, 5-2 in Big Nine), which has won three straight games, plays at Owatonna on Saturday, while East (2-11, 1-6) hosts Faribault on Friday.
“We’ve been a team of streaks,” Boone said. “We won four, then we lost five, and now we’ve won three. We need to be a little more consistent. We’ll fix what we’re doing wrong, and we’ll get better.”