The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 8, 2013

Balanced attack leads MSU men to tourney win

ROCHESTER — In three seasons at Minnesota State, Connor O’Brien has played on two Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season championship teams and been to the national semifinals.

But he’s always had players on his team that flourished in the spotlight, while his work was important but harder to notice.

“I don’t care who scores,” the Minnesota State junior said. “I just want to win. I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s a lot more fun to win. I’ve been there before, and it’s my job to go out there and bring the energy.”

Minnesota State’s deep, balanced attack was too much for Augustana on Friday as the Mavericks pulled away for an 87-66 victory in the semifinals of the Northern Sun men’s basketball tournament. The Mavericks led by five with 8:40 to play before outscoring the Vikings 24-8 the rest of the way.

“We rebounded the ball better tonight, and we did a great job of closing out on their shooters,” coach Matt Margenthaler said. “Our offense was in such a groove. We just had too much for them tonight.”

Senior Jarvis Williams scored 20 points, including six in the final 3:27 with a monster dunk. Zach Monaghan added 16 points, with nine in the final eight minutes.

But O’Brien was there all game, scoring 15 points, getting four rebounds, passing for two assists and making a blocked shot.

“He’s our rock,” Margenthaler said. “He understands what it takes to win. It doesn’t matter to him who scores, he just does all the little things.”

Minnesota State pulled ahead for good on Zach Romashko’s 3-pointer at the 10:4 mark of the first half, and the lead was 10 at halftime.

In the second half, the Mavericks shot 72.7 percent, pulling away over the final eight minutes.

“They got us at home the last time so we really wanted to come out and show that we’re the best team in this conference and in this (Central Region),” O’Brien said. “This tournament means a lot to us, and I think we’re playing our best basket ball right now.”

Assem Marei also had 15 points and six rebounds, helping the Mavericks to a 35-22 advantage on the glass. Jimmy Whitehead added eight points in the second half as the Mavericks’ depth started to show.

“Both Jimmy and Connor went through a tough season last year,” Margenthaler said. “They know how much fun it is to play in these tournaments. These are the games that kids come to Minnesota State to play in.”

The Mavericks (25-4) will take on Bemidji State at 5:30 p.m. today in the tournament championship game. Minnesota State has not won a Northern Sun tournament despite winning the regular-season title in three of the last four seasons.

“It’s important that we win so we can get this championship and solidify the No. 1 seed in the region,” Margenthaler said. “We really want to host the region.”

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