By Joe Tischler
Special to The Free Press
Last time the Minnesota State men’s basketball team took the court they lost at Winona State 75-64, leaving the Mavericks and Warriors tied atop the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings with one regular season weekend remaining.
Zack Monaghan made sure MSU was still in the title hunt as he was the spark plug in a first half run Friday to help ninth-ranked Minnesota State defeat Sioux Falls 87-78 at Bresnan Arena.
Winona State defeated Wayne State 73-64 as the two teams remain tied going into the final game of the regular season.
The Mavericks trailed by four early when Monaghan ignited a big MSU run by nailing a 3 from the top of the key. Thirty seconds later he hit another one from the same spot to tie it at 12 with 12:55 remaining in the first.
Monaghan drained a deep 3 with a hand in his face to make it 19-14 MSU. He later had a nifty lay-in on a fast break following a Connor O’Brien block and assisted on an O’Brien dunk during a 17-4 run to put MSU up 29-18 with 6:55 left in the half.
“Coach (Margenthaler) kind of challenged me this week to just play and not get caught up in the game and I was able to go a good job of that tonight,” said Monaghan.
MSU led 44-26 at the break and extended that lead to 23 — 60-37 — seven minutes into the second half before the Cougars made their run.
A.J. Holland hit six 3s in a second half spurt as Sioux Falls trimmed MSU’s lead to four — 71-67 — with 3:55 left in the game.
Monaghan had been relatively quiet in the second half, but was the catalyst in rebuilding the lead to 10. He hit a running fadeaway jumper off glass and then was left open on a pick and roll for a straight on 3 to give the Mavericks a 76-69 lead with 3:10 to go.
“He (Monaghan) just needed to stay within himself; he’s an emotional guy,” said MSU head coach Matt Margenthaler. “He is our leader; he was a spark for us tonight on both ends of the floor. When he plays within himself and doesn’t allow the external things to filter in to his game, he’s one of the best guards in the league.”
Monaghan had a great all-around game, leading the Mavericks with 23 points, six assists, and three steals. Connor O’Brien was the other Maverick in double figures with 17 points. He grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots.
MSU (21-4, 17-4 NSIC) wraps up the regular season with a home contest against Southwest Minnesota State at 6 p.m. today at Bresnan Arena.