Mustang men cruise past Mary for 77-64 victory

MARSHALL – It may have taken an all out challenge from their coach on Friday night, but the Southwest Minnesota State University men’s basketball team finally woke up in the second half. The Mustangs had trailed the University of Mary (N.D.) 36-32 at the break, but scored 45 points after halftime on their way to a 77-64 win in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at the R/A Facility.

“They were challenged at halftime; their leadership, their effort, their focus, every way you can challenge them,” SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said. “I thought they responded in the second half. That defensive effort, right now, we’re focusing a lot on our defense and to be able to have a second half like that is a credit to our guys.”

One of the biggest responses for the Mustangs in the second half came from senior reserve Lavione West.

Behind three devastating dunks, West scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, while also picking up three steals and two blocks. According to West, Bigler’s challenge inspired him to come out big in the second half.

“I took a big deal out of it,” West said. “He also challenged our leadership and said we only have six guaranteed games left. For me to be a senior, that really hit home. I can’t be a Mustang forever so I just tried to give the best I could for my team.”

West’s first dunk after halftime occurred with 16 minutes, 11 seconds remaining and gave the Mustangs a 44-42 lead. It was also part of a 12-6 run to open the half for SMSU, which watched the Marauders, the second-best 3-point shooting team in the NSIC, convert on 12 of their 24 3-point attempts.

West’s second dunk, a reverse, came after a steal at mid-court and gave SMSU a 48-47 lead with 14:19 to play. The Mustangs went on a 10-0 run following the second dunk, which also included West’s third jam.

After another steal at mid-court, West soared and threw down a Lebron James-esque tomahawk to send the SMSU bench and crowd into a frenzy with just under 12 minutes to play. The momentum firmly swung in SMSU’s favor and West was largely responsible.

“I think you see Lavione’s performance, he was very efficient tonight, eight of 13, but more importantly, just his energy,” Bigler said. “Those energy plays are what spark teams, get you on a roll or get you some momentum and those dunks were probably the key to tonight’s game.”

The game-changing dunks were all a part of the plan for West, but maybe not as rapidly as against they came on Friday night.

“That’s always my intention, to have some dunks, but I didn’t think it would come like that,” West said. “I just want to make plays and if making a play is dunking or giving an assist for a dunk then that is what we want. It helps our goon squad get into the game and helps us out big time.”

SMSU continued to roll afterwards, with their lead peaking at 13 points with 5:27 to play. The Mustangs held Mary scoreless over the final three minutes of the game, as the hot shooters for the Marauders went frigid down the stretch.

The Marauders (3-18 overall, 2-15 NSIC) had used seven 3s to key a 20-9 run over the final six minutes of the first half to take the lead into halftime. SMSU struggled to fight through Mary’s ball screens in the first 20 minutes, but a halftime adjustment proved critical to the comeback.

“During the first half, we handled ball screens three different ways and we couldn’t find an answer for how to stop them,” Bigler said. “We made an adjustment at halftime with a fourth way of handling a ball screen and we finally were able to take them out of rhythm and limit them from getting so many open 3s.

“I think we wanted better pressure on the wing,” he added. “We were trying to make them reject the screen. We weren’t allowing them to use the screen. Thankfully we practice enough options to be able to have that adjustment.”

Josh Turner scored 21 points in the opening half and finished with a game-high 30 points for the Marauders, including eight 3s.

SMSU (13-11, 10-7), which returns to the R/A Facility tonight for an NSIC game against Minot State, scored 30 points off of 20 Marauder turnovers and had four players reach double figures scoring, including West’s career-high 19 points.

Tramel Barnes scored 11 points and had four assists, while Jordan Miller added 17 points and five assists. Jordan Buddenhagen knocked down four 3s on his way to 14 points. Nick Smith had 12 rebounds and five blocks for the Mustangs, while chipping in with five points.