Mankato East’s motto of “Same dream, different dream” came true Friday night as the Cougars defended their Section 2AAA boys basketball championship with a 64-50 win over Worthington at Gustavus Adolphus’ Gus Young Court.

East, which lost all five starters off last year’s team, turned the page and responded with an outstanding season behind a bevy of talented players. Junior guard Dwayne Bryant came off the bench to register a team-best 15 points as the Cougars led wire to wire.

Junior forwards Carson Schweim and MJ Omot chipped in 11 points apiece as the Cougars improved to 24-5 on the season.

“Usually when you get to a scout sheet you feel if you stop a couple of kids you’re in pretty good shape,” East coach Joe Madson said. “There’s no doubt Carson is at the top of our scout sheet, but at the same time we’ve got a bunch of guys that will move the ball and do some damage. We’re a hard team to defend when you have that many options.

“Dwayne was tough, and then Lucas Gustafson comes in and hits a couple of triples that were big in expanding that lead. Some (of these guys) were on the team last year, but some weren’t. They saw how much fun and the success we had so they all wanted a piece of that. When you get kids that buy in during the off season and work hard on their craft, you’re going to find success. ... I knew we had a good group, but I also thought we might be a year away.”

East jumped out to a 9-3 lead behind senior guard Giles Lancaster’s head-on 3-pointer and a basket and two free throws from sophomore wing Ganden Gosch. After the Trojans (21-7) drew within 9-7, Omot’s right baseline 3-pointer and Gosch’s slashing drive made it 14-7 with 12:30 left in the half.

Moments later, Gustafson nailed a pair of long 3-pointers as the Cougars stretched their lead to 28-12 on consecutive hoops from Bryant.

“We have so many players who can score and contribute to this team,” Schweim said. “We have nights when we have four or five guys in double digits so it’s tough to defend us. We’ll have a guy get going and then they’ll try to stop him and someone else will get going. We have so many threats who can score so our offense takes care of itself. When we’re playing good defense it’s tough to beat us.

“Everyone thought it might be a down year for Mankato East basketball, but it was just the opposite. We came out firing from the start, and it just hit me about 15 minutes ago that we’re going back to state and it’s an amazing feeling.”

Bryant’s three-point play produced a 36-23 halftime lead and the Cougars were never really threatened. After Schweim’s left-side 3-pointer put East ahead 48-30 with 13:24 to go, Marenono Opiew’s two buckets helped the Trojans close the gap to 48-48.

However, Dwuan Reliford’s two free throws began a 6-0 run which made it 54-38 on Brogan Madson’s driving banker.

“We wanted to come in and set our ground,” Bryant said. “We wanted to rebound and then push it up the court. I just try to my best to do when I can for the team. We have a lot of depth and even if someone gets hurt we have a lot of people who can fill in. ... There is such a great environment around this team and we believe in each other.”

Gosch ended up with eight points for the winners, who also received six points each from Madson and Gustafson. East connected on 24 of 50 from the field for 44%, compared to the Trojans’ 19 of 46 for 41.3%. Worthington won the boards 32-28 and committed more turnovers 20-14.

East opens the Class AAA tournament on Tuesday.

React to this story:


Trending Video