Six more games. That’s all that’s left in the Minnesota State Men’s Basketball regular season. This weekend, the Mavs will have two more opportunities to improve against Southern Minnesota State University and Sioux Falls.
After dropping four straight games, the Mavs got back in the win column Saturday against Minot State, but are looking to string together some wins just in time for the playoffs. MSU Coach Matthew Margenthaler admitted sophomore Brady Williams has been officially shut down for the year, and the Mavs will have to keep moving forward without the star forward.
Without Williams and a handful of other players, the Mavs have struggled, but got back sophomore Harrison Braudis Friday against the University of Mary. Although they lost to UMary, the Mavs did come back from 26 down to lose by only two points to the Marauders.
“I thought we played OK last weekend, not as good as we need to be at this point in the season,” said Margenthaler. “We just can’t put ourselves in the position we did to get down big.”
Down the stretch without Williams, sophomore forward, Tyrell Stuttley, has stepped into the starting lineup and played great in his role. But that is also the story with this Mavs team, role players trying to adapt to new roles. Now with Williams out for good, players like freshmen Chase Bartlett and Dawson Rudolph will get more chances to make plays for the rest of the season.
Healing but still not healthy, Braudis and Willingham are back, and the Mavs are looking to make a statement, starting with Friday’s matchup against SMSU. With a 13-8 record, the Mustangs sit one spot ahead of the Mavs in the South division standings. The Mustangs bested the Mavs earlier this season 62-58, a close game played in Marshall. The Mustangs were able to force 15 turnovers in their last win, so limiting will be a focus for the Mavs heading into Friday’s matchup.
The Mustangs are led by sophomore guard Omot Dunwa, who is averaging 16.5 ppg, and shoots 37% from beyond the arc on about five attempts per game. Down low, Junior Center Jake Phipps has been able to pull down seven rebounds per game, while averaging a block a game on the season. A tough matchup for the Mavs, but certainly a winnable one.
“Right now, with six games left to play, we can still control our own destiny,” said Margenthaler. “We’ve got to be dialed in this weekend.”
After their rematch with the Mustangs, the Mavs will look to another opponent that has knocked them off earlier this season in the Sioux Falls Cougars. The Cougars currently lead the South division with a 16-6 record. The story the last time these two teams faced off was the Mavs’ offense, posting their lowest point total in a game on the season with just 48, and shooting just 28% from the field with a disappointing 8% from beyond the arc.
Will the Mavs’ offense show up in Saturday’s matchup? It will need to in order to keep up with the Cougars’ offensive attack, led by the leading scorer in the NSIC, guard Matt Cartwright. Cartwright has been on a tear this season, averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting 43% from three. Cartwright truly carries the Cougar offense, as only one other player has been able to keep a double-digit scoring average, so the Mavs’ defense will be a game changer if they are able to hold Cartwright in check.
“We need to make sure we can take care of some of these home games so we can set ourselves up for a nice seed in the conference tournament,” said Margenthaler.
In order for the Mavs to continue to control their own destiny, these games are must-haves. With a squad that is as healthy as it has been in weeks, this is the time for the Mavs to shine. Tip-off for Friday’s matchup against the Mustangs is 5:30 p.m, and Saturday’s clash with the Cougars will begin at 3:30 p.m.
“We could be number one if we win out, but we could also drop to six or seven if we don’t,” said Margenthaler. “The next three weeks should be a lot of fun.”
Write to Hayden Lee at Hayden.Lee@mysmsu.edu
Header photo: MSU Men’s Basketball team plays a second back to back weekend with Southwest Minnesota State Friday, Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m. and Sioux Falls Saturday, Feb. 4 at 3:30 p.m. (Dylan Engel)