By Joe Tischler
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Mankato East is one of two teams in the Big Nine Conference not to bring any starters back from last season. For a team that went 25-4 and reached the state tournament, growing pains are expected. Those pains continued Saturday night at the East gym as the Cougars fell to Hutchinson 74-55 in a nonconference boys basketball matchup.
“We have a lot of kids that haven’t had a lot of varsity time; we knew the early going was going to be tough,” said East coach Joe Madson. “Taking care of the basketball and getting good shots on offense; we’re not there yet.”
The Cougars started out strong though. A Nic Seiler steal and lay-in gave East an early 11-9 advantage. From that point on, East’s inexperienced was evident. The Tigers went on an 18-3 run to go up 27-14 with 5:15 left in the first half. Alex Aalfs was big during the run for Hutchinson hitting three baskets including one from beyond the arc.
Aalfs scored 18 points for Hutchinson. He was one of four Tigers’ in double figures. Alex Nassirzadeh added 16 while Jayden Juergensen contributed 13 and Marcus Hahn scored 12.
East trailed 38-22 at the break, but started the second half on a run as they were able to cut the lead in half six minutes in. Yasin Omar scored seven points in the burst that cut the deficit to 44-36.
Hutchinson scored the next 11 points to break the game open. Aalfs was huge as he scored all but two of those points that put the Tigers up 55-36 with 9:35 remaining.
Brandon Adema led the Cougars with 18 points and eight rebounds and showed consistent play on the evening. As a senior he hopes to bring in some of that needed experience the Cougars desire.
“He brings a lot of energy and heart when he plays,” said Madson. “I thought he did really good tonight going against some bigger kids.”
A night after committing 26 turnovers in a 96-47 loss to Rochester John Marshall, East committed 23 in the defeat on Saturday. The Cougars turned the ball over 61 times in their first two games.
“We’re still figuring out who’s all going to be there for us,” said Adema. “We’re getting better and progressing, turnovers have been smaller and we’re passing the ball a lot better.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Cougars (1-3) as they host Austin on Tuesday.