By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
In early January, Minnesota State defeated Augustana 60-48 at Sioux Falls, and the Vikings repaid that with an 82-79 overtime victory at Bresnan Arena five weeks ago.
Tonight, the teams meet on a neutral court in the semifinals of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s basketball tournament. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center. In the 2:30 p.m. semifinal, Bemidji State (17-11) faces Upper Iowa (20-10).
Both Minnesota State (24-4) and Augustana (21-7) are probably locks for the national tournament, with the Mavericks the favorite to host the event. But the rivalry has gotten more intense with each meeting, and bragging rights could be a key factor in recruiting.
“The team is really eager to play them again,” senior Jarvis Williams said. “We want to come out early, punch them in the mouth and show them we’re the better team.”
In the first meeting, the Mavericks trailed at halftime but outscored the Vikings 37-19 in the second half. Gage Wooten scored 19 points to lead the Mavericks, who held Augustana to 23.1 percent shooting, including 4 of 35 from the field in the second half.
The game at Bresnan Arena featured much better offenses, as the Mavericks shot 40.8 percent to Augustana’s 54.8 percent. Again, the Mavericks trailed at halftime, but in overtime, Cameron McCaffrey, the all-time leading scorer at Augustana, hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds for the victory. Williams and Zach Monaghan each scored 16 points as five Minnesota State players scored 10 or more points.
“Our guys are confident, but I think our confidence took a hit after that loss,” coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We won some games after that, but it took us a while to regroup. I think we’re playing at the highest level we’ve played at all year.”
Minnesota State, which has lost to each of the other semifinalists, leads the Northern Sun in scoring at 79.3 points per game, more than six points higher than Augustana. The Mavericks allow 66.8 points, while the Vikings give up 67.7. Minnesota State’s rebounding margin is plus-9.4, with Augustana at plus-4.5.
“I expect a very physical game,” Margenthaler said. “Both teams want to get out in transition and play a fast-paced game. They’re a very young team, but they’re freshman are getting better. McCaffrey is still their go-to player, and you have to contain him in order to win.”
McCaffrey is averaging 21.3 points and 4.6 assists, shooting 88.4 percent on free throws. Freshman Daniel Jansen averages 11.2 points and 5.9 rebounds and is shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
The Mavericks are more balanced offensively, with Williams averaging 14.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, center Assem Marei averaging 13.0 points and 6.9 rebounds, and Monaghan averaging 12.4 points, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals.
“I think we’re playing well right now and playing as a team,” Williams said. “Everybody is playing a key role, especially on defense. We have each other’s back right now. We have to keep it going.”
Minnesota State women
Minnesota State is the top scoring team in the Northern Sun at 77.1 points per game, while Winona State leads in defense, allowing 54.4 points. That’s the matchup in today’s semifinal game of the conference tournament.
Minnesota State (24-4) faces Winona State (21-10) at noon today at Mayo Civic Center. Augustana (22-6) and Concordia-St. Paul (23-5) play in the other semifinal at 5 p.m. The Mavericks have won 13 straight games.
“I think we still have momentum behind us,” coach Emilee Thiesse said. “We took a couple days off after Saturday’s game so we’re fresh. At this point of the season, you’re either banged up and trying to get through or you have everything working for you. That’s the situation we’re in.”
The first two games between the Mavericks and Winona State had similarities. The score was similar (77-69 and 76-68), and the Mavericks had a 20-point lead in both games.
Ali Wilkinson, who averaged 17.7 points and 7.9 rebounds this season, totaled 45 points and 17 points in the two games, while Winona State’s Becca Friestleben managed 53 points, including 11 3-pointers, against Minnesota State. The Mavericks had 60 points in the paint and 47 bench points to Winona State’s 30 inside points and 14 bench points in the series.
“We’ve talked a lot this week about finding (Friestleben),” Thiesse said. “At practice this week, we’ve designated a player to be the shooter, and we’ve worked on making sure we know where she’s at because she’s hurt us. We’re going to focus on that.”