No. 7 Mankato holds off Minot State men

For 32 minutes Saturday, the Minot State University men’s basketball team played evenly with one of the top Division II squads in the country.

That’s when No. 7 Minnesota State-Mankato separated itself.

The Mavericks repeatedly got the ball inside for easy baskets and made a few key stops down the stretch to defeat MSU 83-72 at the MSU Dome.

“You don’t (get) ranked in the top 10 in the country without having some toughness and (in) the second half, they just decided they were gonna be tough enough to move the ball until they got a lane shot,” MSU coach Matt Murken said. “They didn’t settle for contested jumpers. … Whether it was 20 seconds into the shot clock or 32 seconds in, they got a paint touch and got a good shot at the basket.”

Mankato’s patience and relentless pursuit of good opportunities led to a 62 percent shooting performance. Jarvis Williams, a 6-foot-6 slasher, netted a game-high 25 points and hit 12 of his 16 attempts.

“They shot 62 percent from the floor because they got great looks at the basket,” Murken said. “Sometimes it was our breakdowns and sometimes it was them being good players.”

One of the latter instances occurred in the final minute of the game when the Beavers still had an outside shot at the upset. With 45 seconds remaining and Mankato ahead 76-70, Mavericks point guard lofted a high pass to 6-8 post Assem Marei.

Marei snagged the pass with his fingertips, came down in traffic and converted a layup while being fouled. His ensuing free throw completed the 3-point play and put the game out of reach.

“That was just a player making a play,” Mankato coach Matt Margenthaler said. “That’s not what we drew up. That was our third option we wanted to go to. For some reason our point guard just threw it up to him and – for being as athletic and as gifted and talented as he is – he made a play. After that, that was the game.”

MSU (8-12 overall, 7-9 Northern Sun) led early behind some hot shooting of its own, but Mankato had a 41-38 advantage at halftime after taking the lead midway through the period.

“I thought we were playing pretty solid defense the whole night,” Margenthaler said. “They’re just shooting the ball well right now. When a team shoots 6-for-10 from 3 in the first half and we’re up three still, we felt in pretty good shape at that time.”

The Beavers never led in the second half. They did, however, tie the game at 61 with 8 minutes, 17 seconds left when Chris East hit 1-of-2 foul shots.

But Mankato (18-2, 14-2) responded with a 7-0 run that included two Williams buckets and kept MSU at arm’s length from there.

Josh Johnson led MSU with 17 points and E.J. Williams added 14. Dominique McDonald (12) and Thomas Korf (11) also scored in double figures for the Beavers, who hit 43 percent from the field and 53 percent from 3-point range.

Murken said his team was efficient offensively, but missed a few opportunities at the foul line – where the Beavers shot 10-for-19 – and on shots through contact near the basket.

“The game was decided by us not getting enough stops and by us not finishing a few of those plays at the foul line or at the rim,” Murken said. “We’re close to being a good basketball team, but that last step is a lot of times the hardest step and we have to find a way to take that step here in the last three weeks of the season.”

The Beavers play at Sioux Falls on Friday and at Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.