MANKATO — Behind the over-powering inside play of Assem Marei and Connor O’Brien, the Minnesota State men’s basketball team controlled the tempo from the start, racing to an 84-77 victory over Augustana in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action at Bresnan Arena on Friday.
In his first game after entering MSU’s coveted 1,000-point club, O’Brien finished 7 of 9 from the floor and tallied 15 points, while Marei chipped in 18 points. Augustana may have had the overall height advantage, as four of five starters went 6-foot-5 or more, but the inside play of these two was too much for Augie.
Minnesota State scored 36 of their 84 points in the paint, while Augustana summed 28 inside. Casey Schilling and Daniel Jensen combined for the same amount of
points as Marei and O’Brien (33), but the two could not contain the glass, where the MSU pair out-rebounded them 17-6 with Marei contributing nine and O’Brien adding eight.
As a team, MSU shot 72 percent from the field in the second half, denying every Vikings' rally in the final minute as the teams swapped free throw attempts. MSU connected 12 of 18 from the charity stripe, putting away the Vikings to improve their record to 15-3, 9-2 in conference play.
The game plan for MSU was simple: let guard Zach Monaghan drive to the hoop, where he found a quick bucket or a dish to Marei or O’Brien. Monaghan finished with 12 points and 11 assists, his fourth straight game with double-digit assists.
MSU trailed 21-12 nine minutes into the game before embarking on a 19-4 run that spanned over five minutes to gain the lead at 31-25.
MSU led 41-35 at the break and came hot out of the locker room, as Marei dropped eight points in the first 5:50 of the second half. Augustana made it interesting late, getting as close five with under five minutes to play, but the stifling MSU defense closed off the late-scoring barrage.
Things got choppy in the final minutes when a late whistle turned into technical fouls on Marei and freshman Mike Busack to keep Augustana close. It got to a six-point game with 17 seconds remaining after four straight points from Augustana.
Senior Gage Wooten also contributed double digits inscoring for MSU, finishing 3 of 4 from behind the arc while senior Tanner Adler totaled nine points off three 3-pointers. Busack was 5 of 6 from the line in the final four minutes as he finished with nine points, also.
Schilling led Augustana with 19 points, and Jansen scored 14 points.
MSU will host Wayne State at 6 p.m. today.