By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Maybe one more free throw or one more 3-pointer. Maybe if a banked 3 doesn’t glance in. Maybe the game ends with a jumper in the lane at the end of regulation.
Winona State got a couple of nice bounces, and Minnesota State missed a few free throws. The result was a Winona State 76-73 overtime victory over the Mavericks to win the championship game of the NCAA Division II Central Region men’s basketball tournament Tuesday at Bresnan Arena.
“This was a tough one, no question,” Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We battled. We have nothing to hang our heads about. We competed for more than 40 minutes, and we had an opportunity to finish the game.
“Sometimes, you have to be lucky and have the bounces go the right way. They had a couple banks go in, and that was the difference.”
In the first half, both teams had a five-point lead, though both times, the margin was brief. In the second half, Winona State was able to open up a 6-point lead at the 13-minute mark, but the Mavericks answered with seven straight.
The key stretch of the game came late in the second half. The Mavericks took the lead at 59-55 when Winona State’s Kellen Taylor banked in a 3-pointer from just right of the key. After Minnesota State made a free throw, Xavier Humphrey banked in another 3 from the left wing, just as the shot-clock buzzer went off.
“There was a lot of intensity out there, and we played our hearts out,” said Jarvis Williams, Minnesota State’s only senior. “Maybe they made some lucky plays, but they made the plays.”
Minnesota State had the final possession of regulation time, but Williams had his shot blocked in the lane.
In overtime, the Mavericks led 71-69 with 1:35 to play when Taylor made his third 3-pointer. Connor O’Brien answered with two free throws to put Minnesota State up 73-72 in the final minute, but Grant Johnson’s wing jumper and two free throws made it 76-73 with 8 seconds remaining.
The Mavericks called timeout in the front court with 3 seconds to play, but point guard Zach Monaghan was boxed up, forcing a double-clutch attempt that came up short.
“We just didn’t execute,” Margenthaler said.
Clayon Vette, the tournament MVP, led Winona State with 22 points, though all five starters had at least 11 points.
Assem Marei had 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
“You just don’t see that kind of matchup in Division II,” Margenthaler said. “Vette is a Division I player, and Assem is a Division I player. I’m just thankful I have one of them on my team.
“Vette is an All-American, and Assem will be an All-American.”
The difference in the game came in the shooting. Winona State shot 51.8 percent for the game, including 4 of 5 in overtime. The Mavericks shot 40.0 percent for the game, 2 of 9 in overtime. Minnesota State was 3 of 14 on 3-pointers, and despite outscoring Winona State by 14 at the free throw line, the Mavericks only made 26 of 36.
“I didn’t do a good job on free throws,” said Marei, who was 9 of 14 at the line. “I should’ve made at least a couple more.”
Williams ended up with 15 points, and Gage Wooten scored 11. The Mavericks had a 14-4 scoring advantage from bench players.
“Coach put me in a great position here, and I tried to make the most of it,” Williams said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I’m truly blessed to have gotten to know these coaches and players.”
Winona State (27-7) advances to the Elite Eight, which begins Thursday, March 28, at Louisville, Ky. Minnesota State ends the season at 28-5, which equals the best record in program history. MSU had its third-largest crowd at Bresnan Arena with 4,137 in attendance.
Looking ahead to next season, the Mavericks only lose Williams, but Margenthaler said he’ll be tough to replace.
“The tough part is that we’re not the same team right now,” he said. “Jarvis is finished, and he’s one of the best character guys we’ve had in this program. He did everything we asked of him. We do have a lot of talent coming back. Man, we won only seven games last year so I’m not going to hang my head about this too much.”
WINONA STATE 76
Vette 9-16 3-7 22, Taylor 4-5 0-0 11, Johnson 5-9 1-1 11, Humphrey 3-7 5-5 13, Cameron 6-15 3-4 15, Culver 0-1 0-0 0, Palkert 1-1 0-0 2, Blacklock 1-2 0-0 2, Fischer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-56 12-17 76.
MINNESOTA STATE 73
O’Brien 2-8 4-7 8, Marei 6-12 9-14 21, Williams 4-13 7-8 15, Monaghan 2-7 0-0 4, Wooten 4-9 2-2 11, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Moten 1-1 2-2 5, Whitehead 1-3 2-3 4, Romashko 2-2 0-0 5. Totals: 22-55 26-36 73.
Halftime: Winona State 32, Minnesota State 31. Overtime: Winona State 64, Minneosta State 64. 3-point shooting: Winona State 6-14 (Vette 1-2, Taylor 3-3, Johnson 0-1, Humphrey 2-3, Cameron 0-4, Culver 0-1), Minnesota State 3-14 (O’Brien 0-1, Williams 0-1, Monaghan 0-5, Wooten 1-4, Moten 1-1, Whitehead 0-1, Romashko 1-1). Rebounds: Winona State 34 (Cameron 8), Minnesota State 35 (Marei 8). Assists: Winona State 12 (Vette 4), Minnesota State 12 (Monaghan 8). Steals: Winona State 1 (Culver), Minnesota State 4 (Monaghan 2). Turnovers: Winona State 11, Minnesota State 6. Total fouls: Winona State 26, Minnesota State 18. Fouled out: Winona State (Cameron).