Willingham to Willingham scores Mavs first national title

“A pass from brother to brother. What could be more storybook?” 

With those 11 words, CBS Sports’ Rich Waltz perfectly encapsulated the final moments of a historic season for Minnesota State basketball.

With one final possession in the NCAA Division II championship game, junior guard Justin Eagins passed the ball to a stumbling Malik Willingham who found his brother, Kyreese, in the corner to hit the biggest shot in the history of Mavericks men’s basketball with 0.6 seconds remaining. The brother-to-brother connection was the story of the season for the Mavericks, and their chemistry proved to be the difference on the ultimate stage. 

Kyreese Willingham’s three-point shot gave the Mavericks the 88-85 win over the defending champs, Nova Southeastern.

“Going back to practice, we just had to have trust in each other. Him just having the trust in me to make the last shot in the national championship game is just crazy,” Kyreese Willingham said. “I think it’s only right that he gave me the assist and that we sent him out the right way.”

No one was happier for him than his brother, Malik.

“I knew a lot of people thought I was going to take the shot, but I saw my brother wide open. We’ve been doing this since the park, and I knew that shot was already in when he shot it up,” said Malik Willingham. “Dreams come true and we’re going to talk about this forever. It’s crazy that he did that, and we’re going to be living this out for the rest of our lives.”

After 23 years of being at the helm of the team, head coach Matt Margenthaler finally accomplished what he set out to do back in 2001.

“That’s the Willingham brothers making Willingham plays. These guys grew up on the playground, they just make plays, they know what to do and they just hoop,” head coach Matt Margenthaler said. 

The Willingham brothers were the catalysts of a historic season for the Mavericks that ended with the first championship in team history. The brothers from Waseca, Minnesota have now brought their hometown university the glory and jewelry that they have desperately waited for. For his efforts over the entire weekend, Malik Willingham was named Elite Eight Most Outstanding Player. Kyreese also qualified for the All-Tournament Team. 

It took a lot to knock the defending champs off of their throne, including coming back from a ten-point deficit in the first five minutes. NSU outscored the Mavericks 12-2 in the opening minutes of the game, frustrating the Maverick guards with their full-court press. 

However, after a timeout, the Mavericks got back on track with help from graduate students Elijah Hazekamp and Dylan Peeters, who had his best game of the season Saturday. Peeters led the Mavericks in scoring with 19 points, added 4 assists, a rebound and a block while shooting 9-10 from the field. He was the spark plug the Mavericks needed when their half-court sets broke down and proved to be a very valuable cog in the Maverick offense and defense. 

With just under 10 minutes left in the first half, the Sharks still held a nine-point lead, 21-12. This is where junior guard Harrison Braudis and Kyreese Willingham took matters into their own hands, scoring five points each to lead a 16-6 run that gave them their first lead of the game, 28-27. The Sharks eventually took back a 40-38 lead at the half. 

As they typically did this season, the Mavericks started the second half on fire. Their 10-0 run gave them an eight point lead, 48-40, and their lead would grow to be as large as 13. 

Another unsung hero of the game was senior forward Brady Williams. As Waltz noted many times during the broadcast, his ball-handling abilities were a saving grace for the team as they struggled to break it without him in the middle. Williams finished with five points, three rebounds, two blocks and two assists but his presence made all the difference in the game. 

The Sharks were back in this position for a reason, and they fought back, completely erasing the progress the Mavericks made with a 13-0 run to tie the game at 71 with 6:55 remaining in the game. Over the next five minutes, the lead changed a few more times before it was knotted up at 85 with 1:15 to go. 

The Mavericks were unable to capitalize on their penultimate possession of the season, but they left just enough time to ensure that they would get the last shot. On the Sharks’ final possession, they turned the ball over to Malik Willingham under the basket before he called a timeout. 

We all know what happened next…

This championship win comes one day after the Mavericks women’s basketball team defeated Texas Women’s University in their national championship game, 89-73.

For the first time since 1984, and just the third time ever in any division, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have won national championships in the same season. This weekend will go down in the history books and has cemented MSU’s place in college basketball. 

“Basketball capital of the world: Mankato, Minnesota!” Margenthaler said.

Header Photo: Minnesota State won its first NCAA DII Championship over Nova Southeastern by the score of 88-85. Malik Willingham was named Elite Eight Most Outstanding Player. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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