Conference Champions: Men’s basketball wraps up the regular season in storybook fashion

This weekend, the regular season wrapped up for all Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference basketball teams, but none had more success than the Minnesota State men’s basketball team. 

This was further amplified by their conference-clinching win Friday night over Minnesota Crookston. MSU has been crowned winners of the NSIC four times in their history, with their last title coming back in the 2013-14 season. Now with their fifth title in school history, the Mavericks will turn their attention to the playoffs. 

The final weekend in February was a good one for the Mavericks, as they got two wins, secured the conference and honored their six seniors. Sam Nissen, Dylan Peeters, Elijah Hazekamp, Mason Muller, Brady Williams and Malik Willingham have all now played their last regular season games in the Taylor Center, and were honored in Saturday’s game against the Bemidji State Beavers. All six players have played vital roles to the Mavericks’ success in one way or another in their time at the University, and they will have one final shot to bring home a title for their soon to be alma maters. 

Their first win of the weekend came in an 82-62 contest against the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles. However, the game was not always separated by double-digits. In fact, neither of the two teams were able to hold on to a lead greater than six points in the first half. Led by 10 points from Kyreese Willingham and nine points and three assists by Malik Willingham, the Mavericks were able to head into the locker room with a four point lead, 35-31. 

As they usually do, the Mavericks opened the second half on fire, outscoring the Golden Eagles 24-9 in the span of eight minutes to increase their lead to 59-40. From there, there was no looking back for the conference champs, as they held off the Golden Eagles to officially crown themselves kings of the NSIC. 

Following the win, Malik Willingham reflected on achieving some of the goals he and the team had for the season.

“We worked hard all summer for this moment, we talked about it, we wanted to achieve it, but the only thing that could prove it is the action. We came in and wanted to prove every day why we were one of the top teams in the nation,” Willingham said. “But the job’s not finished, we still have more work to get done. We’re going to enjoy this tonight, but we will get right back to work tomorrow.”

Malik Willingham has been a tone-setter for the Mavericks all season, and his words Friday night certainly set the tone for their matchup with Bemidji State the following day. In their regular season finale, he and Justin Eagins were the offensive catalysts as they picked up one final win to give them a final record of 26-2 for the 2023-24 season. 

The Mavericks jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, but the Beavers matched that with a 12-2 run of their own to give them the lead with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Each team would then score 25 more points in the first half to give the Beavers the halftime advantage, 39-37. 

The game remained in the balance when the second half began, as the Beavers still held the 46-45 advantage with 13:22 to go. At that point, the Mavs locked in and went on a 17-1 run in the next six minutes, which would end up being the difference in the game. The Beavers were able to cut the Maverick lead to single-digits with just over a minute to go in the game, but it was too little too late as the Mavericks held off the Beavers to secure the 76-66 win. 

“We’re not done. This is just the first part of what we wanted. The second part is the conference tournament championship,” Eagins said. “So it’s a new season. We’ve got to lock in. It doesn’t matter about beating these teams now, we have to do it again in Sioux Falls.”

Minnesota State continues its season on March 2 in the second round of the NSIC Tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Mavericks will face the winner of the game between Sioux Falls and Bemidji State at 11:00 a.m.

Header Photo: #4 Minnesota State secured the NSIC regular season championship Friday evening in Taylor Center as the Mavericks bested Minnesota Crookston 82-62. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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