Malik Willingham didn’t mince words about his goals for this year’s Maverick men’s basketball team.
“We’ve been in this spot before, this year is personal for us and we want to prove that we are better than last year,” he said. “We want to be a team to remember.”
Willingham has been the Mavs’ most impressive player this season, averaging 22.9 points per game on 50% from the field, 52% from three, and 90% from the free throw line. To put that into perspective, only one NBA player has shot that well throughout an entire season. Willingham’s career high coming into the year was 20 points, a number that he has already surpassed four times this season, including a 41-point performance against Concordia St. Paul.
“Malik is playing at an elite level right now offensively, the basket has been really big for him,” said Mavs coach Matthew Margenthaler. “Right now, we’re playing as well as he has been playing.”
In addition to the outstanding play from Willingham and the starters, the Mavs are loaded with a great bench unit led by sophomore guard Harrison Braudis. Embracing a sixth man role, Braudis has come off the bench in all seven games and is the teams’ second leading scorer with 14.6 ppg on 66% from the field and 60% from three.
“Our bench has done a great job as well,” said Margenthaler. “Harrison has been unbelievable, Tyrell Stuttley has been efficient, and Mason Mueller has been helping us a lot as well.”
With a 7-0 record, Minnesota State is ranked No.16 in the NABC poll and off to another great start. Thursday’s game marks the start of conference play, beginning with the Winona State Warriors. The Mavs have struggled against the Warriors lately, especially in Winona where they have not won since early 2017.
“We were sitting here at 7-0 last year before the wheels fell off, so these next few weeks will be critical to where we end up at the end of the season,” said Margenthaler.
This seasons’ Warriors team is 5-1, averaging 72.8 points per game on 40% from the field and 32% from three as a team. They are led by sophomore guard Dillon Connor, who has been enjoying a season in which he is averaging 20 points and 5 rebounds a night. Behind him are sophomore forward Drew Connor (13.3 ppg), and senior Luke Martens (12.2). The trio make up most of the offensive production for the Warriors, accounting for nearly 60% of the teams’ points this season.
“In this conference, everyone can win, and I’m excited for every opportunity we get to prove ourselves,” said Willingham. “I want people to be scared to come over and play MSU.”
Following their matchup with the Warriors, the Mavs will return home to play in the first of three straight home games, beginning with the Upper Iowa Peacocks. The Peacocks have won 5 of the last 6 matchups between these two teams, with the Mavs’ only win being a 2-point overtime victory early last season.
The Peacocks entered this week with a 4-3 record, including handing the Warriors their only loss on the year. On the season, the Peacocks are putting up 80.6 points per game on 42.5% shooting from the field and 34.2% from three. The backcourt duo of seniors Jake Hilner (22.6 ppg) and Lucas Duax (19.1) lead the charge for the Peacocks. Despite their ability to put up points, the Peacocks have also been prone to turning the ball over, committing 81 turnovers on the year.
Two challenging opponents stand in the way of the Mavericks’ quest for 9-0, and it will be important for the Mavs to focus on one game at a time. Tip off for Thursday’s game in Winona is set for 7:30 p.m. and Saturday’s game begins at 4 p.m. at Taylor Center.
“At the end of the day, I’m here to win. I want to put MSU on the map, and I want to do a lot of big things in my last few years here,” said Willingham.
Header Photo: Minnesota State Men’s basketball team aim to continue the win streak as they travel to Winona State today. Trevor Moore (above) taken from Tuesday, Nov. 22 game at home. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)
Write to Hayden Lee at Hayden.Lee@mnsu.edu