In a weekend highlighted by the NFL’s Super Wild Card playoff matchups, Minnesota State was looking for a wild card of their own to help them through their two road games Friday and Saturday.
Friday’s matchup against Minnesota Crookston saw the Mavs pull through with a closely contested 71-66 win. However, they were not so lucky against Bemidji State, with the Beavers taking control in the final ten minutes to hand the Mavs a 79-69 loss.
The Mavs were looking for someone to step up in the absence of Brady Williams and Malik Willingham; sophomore Kyrese Willingham rose to the occasion. K. Willingham had a career night, scoring a career-high 27 points to go along with eight rebounds, and shot 10-of-18 from the field.
The first half brought about many lead changes, with the Golden Eagles taking the lead early in the game at 16-12 with 13:36 remaining in the half, but the Mavs fired back, going on a 10-4 run in the next few minutes to regain the lead, 22-20. Redshirt Freshman, Dawson Rudolph, saw an increased role in this game, playing 12 minutes and hitting an important three pointer to knot the game up at 30 with five minutes to go in the half.
After the three from Rudolph, the Mavs would only score 3 points as a team to close out the half, down 42-33. At the break, it was senior Trevor Moore leading the way for the Mavs with 11 points, while K. Willingham added 9 points.
It seemed like something changed for the Mavs coming back from halftime, going on an 11-0 run to open the second half and taking back the lead, 44-42. In what was the theme of the night, the lead would change four more times in the next four minutes of play until the teams were tied at 49 with just under ten minutes to play.
With just under eight minutes left, the Golden Eagles held a one point advantage over the Mavs, but when the team needed them the most, K. Willingham and Moore came through. The duo each had four points on the Mavs 8-2 run to go up 59-54 with four minutes remaining. This proved to be the difference in the game, as for the rest of the game the Golden Eagles would not be able to get the game back in their control, allowing the Mavs to escape with a 71-66 win.
Coming off of an emotional win, the Mavs would travel to Bemidji to take on the Beavers. However, the Mavs seemed unphased and came out looking great, taking a 22-17 lead midway through the first. K. Willingham continued to impress, scoring 11 of the Mavs’ 22 points.
Another redshirt freshman saw major minutes for the Mavs in Chase Bartlett, who hit from downtown to give the Mavs a six-point lead, 29-23. This lead would not last long. The Beavers went on a 14-5 run to end the half, giving the Beavers a 37-34 advantage heading into the break.
The early dominance from K. Willingham was enough to lead the Mavs in points at the break with 13. Senior Kelby Kramer also added six points to go along with six rebounds.
The first ten minutes of the second half would be a challenge for both teams, as neither could gain a two-possession lead. Rudolph again proved why he belongs, hitting a three to momentarily tie the game at 50. The Beavers then hit a layup to put them back up by two, and they would not look back, holding the lead for the rest of the game, and came away with a 79-69 win.
K. Willingham has really stepped up in his brother’s absence and taken on a bigger role for the Mavs. In his last four, Willingham has averaged 34.5 minutes per game, 20.8 ppg, and 5.5 rebounds per game. He has been great when called upon.
The Mavs, without two of their stars, put up a good fight this weekend and looked promising while playing hard in two tough matchups. They now sit at 13-5 on the season, with a 7-5 NSIC record. They will look to bounce back on the road again Friday, where they will take on the Northern State Wolves, an opponent they have not yet faced this season.
Write to Hayden Lee at Hayden.Lee@mnsu.edu
Header Photo: (No. 14 Malcolm Jones above) MSU Men’s Basketball Team split this weekend defeating Minnesota Crookston 71-66 Friday, Jan. 13 and losing 69-79 to Bemidji State Saturday, Jan. 14. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)