Tiger boys cruise into 2AAA semis

MARSHALL – The third-ranked Marshall Tigers’ performance in their opening round playoff game against New Ulm was comparable to a locomotive pulling out of the station. A sluggish start allowed the Eagles to keep pace early on, but once the Tigers got rolling, there was no chance of slowing them down.

Trailing by a basket seven minutes into the game, Marshall began to get out and run in transition and didn’t let off the gas on its way to a 71-34 victory in the quarterfinals of the Section 2AAA boys’ basketball tournament.

“We just kind of went with the flow as the game went on,” said Marshall senior guard Hunter Peterson, who scored 11 points to go with six assists and three steals. “Once we started running with it, that’s how we’ve played all year and things just started getting easier for us as we built momentum.”

The Tigers (25-2 overall), who are seeded second in the tournament, advance to face No. 3 seed Mankato West at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at the Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State-Mankato. The Scarlets defeated in-town rival Mankato East 54-47 in overtime Wednesday.

Coming in having lost nine straight games, New Ulm (5-22) opened Wednesday’s contest against Marshall looking to give a better effort than it did Friday when the Tigers trampled the Eagles 71-31 in the regular season finale for both teams. And the Eagles did come out with good energy to start the game, with guard Chris Mulder drilling a 3-pointer for the opening basket and New Ulm’s post players finding success scoring down low. Head coach Steve Foley also switched up defenses to try to cage the Tigers.

“I know their offense in transition is phenomenal and that really hurt us on Friday night when we played them,” Foley said. “We tried to go zone to slow them up a little bit and switched up our defenses, which I thought was pretty effective to begin the game. They adjusted about halfway through the first half and we had to go back to man.

“I still think our half-court defense was pretty solid, but unfortunately they can get out and run the court very well. They’re athletic and they’re fast and they pass the ball real well. It’s tough to defend that.”

Peterson hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the score at 9 with 11 minutes, 38 seconds left in the opening half. Less than two minutes later he came away with a steal and raced ahead of the pack for a layup as Marshall went on a 7-0 run to grab an 18-11 lead.

The Tigers, who have now won 14 straight games, kept pushing the pace at every opportunity and shared the ball well when in their half-court offense to get easy looks down low as they built on their lead. By halftime, what had been a tight game early on had turned into a 38-21 edge for the Tigers.

Marshall head coach Travis Carroll called two timeouts early in the first half to try to get his players going. They eventually did, but it wasn’t the start the first-year head coach was looking for in the team’s playoff opener.

“I’ve got to give New Ulm credit, they came out and they were prepared to play and played at a very good level to begin the game,” Carroll said. “We faced some adversity and we probably didn’t handle it as well as we’d like. It was a good learning moment for us because we’ve handled adversity alright during the year and it’s alright to know that we may not always handle it right at all times but we can learn from it and get better from it.”

The second half started much better for Marshall. Junior guard Riley Sharbono and senior forward Aaron Mathiowetz each made two baskets in the paint in the first two minutes as the Tigers went on an 8-0 run. Marshall kept rolling from there and led by 20-plus points the rest of the way.

Sharbono finished with a game-high 16 points. He also had six rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Derek Buysse added 10 points and a game-high eight rebounds, helping Marshall to a 39-18 edge on the boards.

Scoring 58 of its 71 points from in the paint, Marshall finished the game shooting 55.1 percent from the field and held the Eagles to just 31.1 percent.

New Ulm was led offensively by junior guard Jackson Yackley and 6-foot-6 center Tyler Dittrich, who scored nine and eight points, respectively.

The Tigers’ focus now shifts to Mankato West and Saturday’s game at the Taylor Center. Marshall defeated the Scarlets 70-50 on Dec. 22, but Carroll said his team knows regular season results don’t mean anything in the playoffs.

“If we don’t come out and play the way that we want to play then it could be a tough uphill battle,” he said. “We’re excited about going to Mankato to play. We played on a college floor at (Southwest Minnesota State University) earlier this year and we had a couple of good games there. Our guys definitely have to have confidence going in and playing in a big arena like that.”