After suffering their second loss of the season, the Mavericks were tasked with two more road games to open up the month of February. Each opponent gave the no. 2 ranked team in Division II a run for their money.
The first game on the docket was a rematch against Southwest Minnesota State University. The Mavericks pulled out a 10 point win over the Mustangs, 68-58. This performance gave the Mavericks their 20th win of the season as they moved to 20-2.
As you would expect, the first half was filled with runs and lead changes that had all of the early signs of a tightly contested game. The lead was mostly in the hands of the Mustangs, until Malik Willingham turned it on. He scored nine points in a 14-4 Maverick run to knot the game at 31 with halftime nearing. The Mustangs would snatch the lead back as the teams went into the locker room, 35-34.
The Mavericks got off to a poor start shooting the basketball, as they only shot 38% from the floor and went 4-14 from downtown, but their defense kept them in the game as they forced 7 turnovers and scored 11 points off turnovers.
To open the second half, the Mavericks went on a 16-2 run that in essence, put the dagger in the hearts of Mustang fans as they would never regain the lead. Kyreese Willingham was excellent down the stretch as he made timely baskets that halted any attempt of a comeback for the Mustangs.
Kyreese and Malik Willingham each scored 17 points in the victory, but the real story was the ability of the Maverick defense to hold the Mustangs to just 58 points. They forced 12 turnovers, had seven steals and two blocks in a ‘grind it out’ type of game.
“Tonight was a big road win where I thought our guys really had the ball moving and played connected for 40 minutes,” said Mavericks head coach Matt Margenthaler in a press release posted to the Maverick Athletics website. “Defensively, we were as solid as we’ve been for a while. That’s the combination you have to have on the road.”
The next day, the Mavericks traveled to Sioux Falls, where the Cougars were ready to give the Mavs all they could handle.
The Cougars jumped out to an early 16-6 lead, which included a 9-0 run that led to a score of 18-9 midway through the first half. The Cougars held on tight to their lead, as every time the Mavericks seemed to have a spark, the Cougars matched them on their next possession. If not for four free throws from Malik Willingham in the last 40 seconds of the half, the 34-27 Cougar lead could have been much bigger as the teams entered the locker room.
Strangely enough, there was no scoring in the first two and a half minutes in the second half, until Malik Willingham was able to make a three-pointer to light the spark for the Mavs. The Mavs went on a 19-3 run which included Willingham’s three to open up the second half of play. This gave the Mavs a 46-37 advantage with 13 minutes left. The Mavericks continued to push their way out to a 57-47 lead, but the Cougars weren’t done yet. The Cougars were able to retake the lead 62-58, thanks to a 15-1 run on their last breath. A few minutes later, with the score tied at 64, Malik Willingham hit a huge floater that became the game-winner. Turnovers and missed shots haunted the Cougars as the Mavs left Sioux Falls victorious.
“I thought our guys really competed tonight at a high level and handled adversity as well as we have in a long time,” said Margenthaler. “It was a great road victory.”
That great road victory now puts the Mavericks at 21-2 on the season, and they will return home this weekend to take on Wayne State Friday and Augustana Saturday.
Header Photo: Small College Basketball has announced that Minnesota State senior Malik Willingham has been named to the top-25 watch for the Trevor Hudgins Award. (Courtesy Maverick Athletics)
Write to Hayden Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org