This past weekend, the Minnesota State men’s basketball team had two games that came down to pivotal, last-second plays that either made or broke the game for the Mavericks. Cole Harper made a clutch shot to give the Mavericks a win, while a turnover from Harper cemented a loss for the Mavericks the following night. The team finished the weekend of NSIC action on the road, splitting games and moving their record to 13-7 overall and 8-6 in the conference.
The first game of the weekend for the Mavericks was on the Jan. 20 against the University of Sioux Fall Cougars in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Cougars’ Drew Guebert and Clint Thomas combined for 21-first half points to control the majority of opening action. The Mavericks were only able to take control of the lead on three occasions, with each of those only amounting to a one-point lead. Sioux Falls took a 33-28 lead into the locker room at the half.
Thomas opened the second half with a three-pointer to bring Sioux Falls’ lead up to eight points. MSU’s Joey Witthus responded with five points to help bring the lead down, and two free throws by Jay Knuth and a three from Aarias Austin put the Mavs right back in it. Minnesota State regained the lead and held onto it until a three-pointer from Sioux Falls with 6:44 to go put them back in front.
The Cougars held onto the lead for the rest of the game, building it to as much as six points. However, the Mavericks didn’t let themselves out of it. With one second left, Harper nailed a go-ahead lay-up to secure the win.
Minnesota State’s Jon Fuqua had 20 points, Austin tallied 18, and Joey Witthus scored 11.
The following night, the Mavericks traveled to play the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in Marshall. Riding the high from the previous victory, Minnesota State jumped to an incredible start against the Mustangs. In the first eight minutes of action, the Mavericks dominated the scoreboard and built a 19-2 lead.
SMSU’s Mitch Weg finally broke the drought and hit a layup. Weg’s points broke the dam that was holding back their offense, as the Mustangs began to chip away at the deficit. The Mustangs’ defense also got back to business as the remaining 12 minutes they allowed 11 points, compared to the 19 in the opening eight minutes. Minnesota State held onto the lead going into halftime, 30-27.
Just over a minute into the second half, the Mavericks’ lead evaporated with a dunk from SMSU’s KJ Davis. The lead changed six more times in the game and the decisive moments of the game came down to the last 15 seconds. The score was tied at 56 for just over a minute straight, when the Mustangs’ Ryan Bruggeman nailed a jumper to gain a two-point lead. Witthus turned the ball over shortly after, but grabbed a rebound after Weg missed. With two seconds to go, Weg made the game-deciding steal over Harper to leave with the win.
Minnesota State’s Witthus led in scoring with 13 points, Harper had 10, and Knuth added nine points and 11 rebounds.
The Mavs continue to play NSIC match ups on the road this weekend. They’ll play the University of Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles (6-14, 2-12 in the NSIC) on Friday in Crookston and the Bemidji State Beavers (7-12, 5-9 in the NSIC) on Saturday in Bemidji.