Survive and advance

MANKATO – Following an uncharacteristic first half, ripe with turnovers and offensive rebounds for their opponents, the Marshall Tigers turned it on in the second half of their boys’ basketball section semifinal on Saturday against Mankato West to advance to the Section 2AAA final.

Marshall turned the ball over 18 times for the game and allowed the Scarlets to haul in nine offensive boards as Mankato West took a 26-23 lead into halftime. After the break, however, Austin Saugstad and Riley Sharbono combined for 23 points as the No. 2 seed Tigers completed the comeback for a 66-61 win at Minnesota State-Mankato’s Taylor Center. The Tigers (26-2 overall) will face No. 1 seed Waconia at the Taylor Center on Thursday.

“Two things that kind of bothered us in the first half were our turnovers as a team and we gave up nine offensive rebounds,” Marshall head coach Travis Carroll said. “Those are two pretty big statistics. It’s that time of year, we’ve been saying it, this is a game about total number of possessions and we were giving possessions away and giving Mankato West possessions. That’s not a recipe for success.

“Before the next game that’s got to get cleaned up or else it’s going to be a long night,” he added. “You know Waconia’s a great team and we’re going to have to be at our best, but we’re confident going into that game because we think we’ve got a pretty good team also.”

Saugstad and Sharbono finished the game with 15 and 13 points, respectively, while combining for Marshall’s final 10 points of the contest. Aaron Mathiowetz also reached double figures scoring for Marshall with 14 points, and his 11 first-half points allowed the Tigers to keep pace with Mankato West despite the turnovers and extra possessions.

“The first half we were kind of standing around and watching, but Aaron did a good job towards the end of that half of making some things happen for us on the offensive end,” Carroll said. “In the second half we continued to move without the ball better and get more action to the rim. We started making free throws in the second half, too. We had some opportunities in the first half to knock down some free throws and that didn’t go so well, but the guys didn’t let it carry over.”

The Scarlets jumped out to a 14-5 lead over the game’s first five minutes and led 21-15 with four minutes before the break. Marshall clamped down on the defensive end and Mathiowetz scored six of his points over the final three minutes, 44 seconds of the first half to help the Tigers tie the game at 23-23. Braeden Myers responded for the Scarlets and converted a three-point play with 4.7 seconds left in the opening half to give Mankato West a three-point edge at halftime.

Marshall and Mankato West had previously met during the regular season with the Tigers stomping the Scarlets 70-50 on Dec. 22. At halftime, Carroll said he chose not to remind his team of their previous success against Mankato West, but rather focused on leaving everything they had on the court.

“The first time around it was a close game until the end,” Carroll said. “It’s just that time of year where if it’s going to be your last night, you want to go out playing the way you know you can play. That was kind of our message at halftime and our guys came out and did a better job in the second half. Mankato West is a good basketball team, you don’t get to this point in the season without being a good team, so a credit to their players and their coaches.”

Marshall’s response wasn’t immediate as the Scarlets built their lead to 33-27 following a basket and free throw by Jake Dale with 15:34 to play. Dale finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, but the Tigers answered with a 15-4 run over the ensuing five minutes to grab a 42-37 lead.

Saugstad tied the game at 33-33 with 12:12 remaining and Hunter Peterson laid one in on a fastbreak 16 seconds later to give Marshall its first lead of the game. Derek Buysse drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing on Marshall’s next trip down the court and the Tigers were rolling.

Marshall held a five- to seven-point lead over Mankato West over the next seven minutes, getting to the basket with relative ease. When Peterson connected on a 3 of his own with 4:00 left in the game, there was a sense of relief from the Tiger faithful. But the Scarlets refused to watch Saturday’s game get out of hand as had their meeting nearly three months earlier.

A 6-1 run for the Scarlets following Peterson’s 3-pointer cut Marshall’s lead to 57-55 with 2:50 to play.

Saugstad replied and scored on a pair of drives and Sharbono was 4-for-4 from the free throw line over the final 2:30, as Marshall held off the late rally by Mankato West.

The semifinal was a timely test for Marshall, which had won its last five games by an average of 26.2 points.

“Our guys faced plenty of adversity out there on the court tonight and handled that adversity,” Carroll said. “At the end of the night, it’s a win and now we’ve got a chance to play to go to state, which was definitely one of our goals to begin the season.”

Winners of 15 straight, the Tigers will seek their ninth state tournament berth in program history on Thursday with tip off against Waconia scheduled for 7 p.m.