MANKATO — Ryland Holt said he wasn’t nervous before his first home game with the Minnesota State men’s basketball team. He said his teammates have been very welcoming and making him feel comfortable, easing his transition to college.
Plus, this is a dream come true.
“I’ve been thinking about this since I committed here,” Holt said. “Last week gave me a chance to get into the game. I’ve been preparing for this game for eight months.”
Holt, a 6-foot-5 true freshman from Gibson City, Illinois, had 23 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots off the bench, leading Minnesota State to a 73-61 nonconference victory over St. Cloud State on Saturday at Bresnan Arena. He carried the team in the first half, working the lane while teammates were in foul trouble.
“We saw that when (Holt) was in high school. We saw that last weekend (in two games at Kansas City),” Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We saw it again tonight. He’s a very talented kid who’s going to be the strength of our bench. Cam (Kirksey) got in foul trouble; he’s the preseason player of the year. And when we bring Ryland in, we’re not losing much.”
Holt was forced into a larger role early when starting center Kelby Kramer got into foul trouble. A few minutes later, Kirksey also went to the bench with two fouls.
Holt scored eight straight points for Minnesota State as the Mavericks went ahead 16-15 at the 10-minute mark. The teams traded baskets until late in the Mavericks made an 8-0 run, started by Holt’s layup and followed by 3-pointers from Corvon Seales and Tre Baumgardner.
“My teammates did a nice job of getting me the ball,” Holt said. “We had some good high-low looks so I just worked to get position.”
Also in that run, Holt went high for a blocked shot at the basket, starting a fast break. Holt finished the half with 17 points, only four fewer than he had in the first two games, as Minnesota State led 39-35.
“He’s a winner,” Margenthaler said. “In high school, he went to the state tournament in football, basketball and track and field. He’s a very mature young man, and he just does his job. We need everyone to do that mor often.”
Kramer and Kirksey returned to start the second half, and each scored four points as the Mavericks maintained the lead. Holt came back in after four minutes and sparked a 9-0 run that made it 59-45. He had two post baskets, two free throws and another monster block in the run.
The Mavericks’ biggest lead came at 67-50 when Kramer scored on a tip-in with three minutes remaining.
“I think we found our personality tonight,” Holt said. “We’re a defensive team, and when we’re struggling on offense, we need to dig in defensively. It doesn’t matter how many points we score, we’re going to win with defense.”
Kirksey ended up with 12 points, and Kramer had 11 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. The Mavericks had eight blocked shots, out-rebounded St. Cloud State by seven and held the Huskies to 39.3 percent shooting, including 3 of 12 from 3-point range.
Margenthaler said his team did a better job of getting into the offense, which included more post touches than in the first two games. He wants to see the guard play improve, but it’s only the third game of the season.
“We need to be an everyday team,” Margenthaler said. “We need to come to work, Monday through Thursday, and improve every day. I thought we did a great job of doing that this last week. I knew we would play better.”
The Mavericks (1-2) have another home game Saturday against Division III Crown College before heading to Denver for a tournament Nov. 29-30.
“We want to be a team that wins its home games,” Holt said. “Last year, I think it was more 50-50 at home, but we want to get more people at the games, and the best way to do that is win.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.