By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
ST PETER — With just five games remaining in the regular season, the Gustavus Adolphus men’s basketball team is an unfamiliar position — battling to qualify for a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference post-season tournament.
Wednesday night at Lund Center, the Golden Gusties took a step in the right direction by blasting St. Mary’s 82-43 behind a career-high 20 points from 6-foot-6 senior wing Blake Shay. The win snapped a three-game losing skid and upped Gustavus’ record to 10-9 overall and 8-7 in the MIAC, tied with Carleton for the final playoff spot.
“You’ve got to beat the teams that are below you if you want to stay in that battle,” Gusties’ coach Mark Hanson said. “I think we took some life out of them at some point, but we still showed some weaknesses we need to work on. I thought we did some things that were a step up defensively.
“We need to do more on a nightly basis. When we moved the ball well I thought we created some really good shots, especially in the second half when we got layups. There’s still times when the ball stops when I think we need to keep it going. If we’re going to be a good team we need to share the ball. If we don’t share it then we become much easier to defend.”
Gustavus converted a trio of three-point plays — one on a nifty finger roll off the
glass by Shay and two on follow-up baskets from senior guard Ben Biewen — in building a 38-22 halftime cushion. The Gusties also fired through four 3-pointers — two from senior wing Jim Hill and one each from Shay and Jordan Dick — over the opening 20 minutes.
“Urgency is definitely part of it and responsibility is a little bit too,” HIll, who finished with 15 points, said. “We have a lot of seniors on this team and we don’t want to break tradition. We’re going to do what it takes to get into the playoffs.
“Gustavus basketball is about a bunch of guys getting into double figures. We just have to move the ball around and then have the open guy knock the shot down. We were able to get into the passing lanes tonight. When we have pressure on the ball and don’t let ball reversal, we can make it tough for teams to put points up on us.”
Junior wing Jordan Dick’s left-side 3-pointer triggered an 11-2 surge to open the second half and the Gusties continued the onslaught the rest of the way. Dick’s three-point play midway the second half ballooned the margin to 68-32. Biewen, Dick and Shay then buried 3-pointers to finish of the rout.
Biewen enjoyed a productive contest, collecting 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals for the winners. Dick chipped in nine points and four rebounds for the Gusties, who connected 33 of 61 from the field for 54.1 percent. St. Mary’s turned the ball over 23 times compared to nine for Gustavus.
“We knew we were going to get off to a quick start and put them down,” Shay said. “I thought we rebounded pretty well compared our last games where we got beat up on the boards. We came out and stuck it to them and didn’t let them run their stuff.
“We knew we had to get some good post to post action and take advantage of the size we had inside. We can’t have any more let downs. We have to come out every night expecting to win. Every night is huge and this was a great start.”
St. Mary’s (3-16-2-12) received 13 points from Evan Pederson while Will Swiggum tallied 10 points and six rebounds.
Gustavus, which won the boards 33-24, plays a 3 p.m.. game Saturday at Hamline.