Another week, another split for Minnesota State. The Mavs needed two wins Friday and Saturday in order to move up in the NSIC South Division rankings, but fell short of the mark Friday against SMSU. One day later, the Mavs put on a show in the Taylor Center, dominating Sioux Falls.
In what began as a closely contested match in the first half, the Mustangs were able to pull away from the Mavs in the second half to hand the Mavs their ninth loss of the season, 73-67. Determined to win, the Mavs came out hungry against the Cougars from start to finish, where they left the Taylor Center with a 73-42 win.
“Keep it moving,” were the words from Mavs coach, Matt Margenthaler, early in the game Friday, as the Mavs had some long possessions that ended in some tough shots being hoisted up. This may have been due to a key piece of the Mavs’ rotation, senior Kelby Kramer, being absent from the starting lineup.
Nevertheless, the Mavs were able to keep it close, as they were only down one point with 9:35 remaining in the first half. The seven-minute mark saw Kramer check in for the first time, and the Mavs responded immediately with an and-one from senior Trevor Moore, who had 10 points in the first half.
Tied at 29, the Mavs were still in this game, despite shooting poorly from the field on the offensive end. The Mavs had a chance to grab momentum when Kyreese Willingham stole the ball and pushed it down the court to Harrison Braudis, who missed a 3-pointer in transition. Missing an opportunity like that can crush the spirit of a team, but junior Malik Willingham shouted “keep shooting!” at Braudis as the Mavs got back on defense. Two minutes later, on Braudis’ next shot attempt, he nailed a three to put the Mavs up by 4 heading into halftime.
“You can get in your own head when you start missing,” said Malik Willingham. “We all believe in him, and everyone here knows he can shoot the ball.”
At the half, the Mavs were up four, but were only shooting 36% from the field and 29% from the field, compared to the Mustangs’ 44% and 43% from those same categories. Something needed to give.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, their poor shooting would continue to start the second half. The Mustangs went on a 16-0 run in the first seven minutes until sophomore Kyreese Willingham stopped the bleeding with a layup at 12:55. The Mavs would attempt a comeback fueled by a four-point play from Malik Willingham, but it was not to be, as they eventually fell to the Mustangs, 73-67.
Kyreese Willingham led the way for the Mavs with 18 points and 16 rebounds, six of which were offensive rebounds. Malik Willingham finished with 15 points, 6 assists, and fouled out of the game.
“Shots just weren’t falling for us, we were 0-13 to start the half,” said Malik Willingham. “All of the shots we took, we practiced, but they just weren’t falling for us today.”
Malik Willingham spoke it into existence, as Sioux Falls is a challenging opponent with an elite scorer in Matt Cartwright, but it was Malik Willingham who was the best player on the court Saturday, scoring 33 points.
“I don’t really look too much into that, but it gives me a spark to go harder,” said Willingham. “Whoever is eating that night, that’s who we’re going to, I’m just blessed that it was my night.”
The Mavs grabbed the lead first with a layup from sophomore Mason Mueller, who started in place of Kramer again. The Cougars answered back with four straight points and took the lead briefly, but that was the only time they had the lead in this game.
In taking the lead back, the Mavs went on a 15-0 run to go up 17-4. Following a basket from the Cougars, the Mavs went on another run, this time only a 7-0 run, but it set the tone for the game and gave the Mavs all the momentum they needed for the rest of the game, putting the Mavs up 24-6 with 8:20 to go in the first half.
The Cougars started to crawl back into the game, cutting the lead to 15, but that’s where the Malik Willingham show started. Looking confident, he hit back-to-back threes on his way to 16 first-half points. Kyreese Willingham started hot as well, going 2-2 from downtown, he had 8 in the first 20 minutes. Matt Cartwright was held to just five points in the first half as the Mavs went into the half up big, 37-17.
The second half was all Mavs and all Malik Willingham, as he added 17 more points before he checked out for the night with 33 points. MSU outscored Sioux Falls 36-25 in the second half as Cartwright was held scoreless as the Cougars’ struggles continued. In a convincing win for the Mavs, they caged the Cougars, 73-42.
“It’s just the start of something, we have to take it one game at a time,” said Malik Willingham. “They were the number one team in the South, and we showed what we are capable of doing. We can make some magic happen.”
Header Photo: The MSU Men’s Basketball team chopped the weekend one for two after losing to SMSU 73-67 Friday, Feb. 3 and winning 73-42 against Sioux Falls Saturday, Feb. 4. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)
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