Men’s basketball wins close weekend games

Allison Mueller

Winona State men’s basketball head coach Todd Eisner talks to the team in a timeout during Friday’s home game against Minot State. The Warriors pulled ahead to win 84-82. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)
Winona State men’s basketball head coach Todd Eisner talks to the team in a timeout during Friday’s home game against Minot State. The Warriors pulled ahead to win 84-82. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)

Adam Kirk / Winonan

The Winona State University men’s basketball team ended their three-game losing streak and started a new path with consecutive wins this weekend against Minot State University Beavers and the University of Mary Marauders in Winona.

The trend this season, especially when at home, has been getting out to a hot start and then letting the other team back into the game. This weekend they found ways to close teams out.

With one minute remaining and the score tied at 66 against Minot State, sophomore guard Connor Flack gave Winona State the lead with a basket. He then had a steal on the other end, leading to another layup to put Winona State ahead by four points.

Minot State connected on a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. Senior guard Riley Bambenek split a pair of free throws and Minot State followed with a score to tie the game at 71. Winona State had a last-second effort, but senior guard Isaiah Gray’s layup was blocked out of bounds, leading to overtime.

In overtime the Warriors took the lead and held on, despite missing six free throws and a late push from the Beavers including two 3-pointers to walk away with the 84-82 win.

Head coach Todd Eisner said, “We made plays when we needed to make plays. We needed a win badly. I’m really not too worried about what the stat sheet says. We just needed a win.”

He also commented on the missed free throws, mentioning fatigue to be a factor.

“We had seniors at the line and we want seniors at the line, and they’ve got to step up and make free throws,” Eisner said. “Obviously, that’s a big part of the game.”

However, Eisner said he was still happy with the amount of free throws they shot.

“The scary part is in our last two wins, here and at Duluth, we went to the line more than 20 times and won those games,” Eisner said. “I’ve been asking guys to be tougher and stronger inside, finishing plays, and we did a better job of that tonight.”

Senior forward Kyle Bauman had a team-high of 17 points while sophomore forward Tommy Gathje and Bambenek added 16 and 14 points.

Senior guard Isaiah Gray extends for a layup against the Minot State Beavers during Friday night’s victory in the McCown Gym. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)
Senior guard Isaiah Gray extends for a layup against the Minot State Beavers during Friday night’s victory in the McCown Gym. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)

Bambenek said, “I’ve been struggling a little bit lately but felt like I got in a bit of a rhythm and got going. When you make some shots early, it just flows and you feel confident throughout the game.”

Despite the high-scoring affair, Eisner said Winona State’s defense played well at times.

“We had our moments when we were really good. Our goal is to hold opponents under 40 percent which we’ve really struggled with this year but Minot made some tough shots,” Eisner said.

Saturday night the Warriors were back in a familiar situation, as they were late in the second half looking to hold on to the lead.

With just over a minute left in the game, Bambenek nailed one of his four 3-point attempts to put the Warriors up by five. The Marauders were unable to answer, and free throws from senior guard Josh Mongan and Gray helped the Warriors finish their much needed weekend sweep.

Eisner said, “We’ve been really struggling to finish some games. We finished the games this weekend and figured out a way to move on.”

The Warrior offense had a balanced attack with four starters scoring 16 points or more. Gray finished with 19 points and six rebounds while Gathje, Bauman and Bambenek scored 16 each.

Bambenek dealt with foul trouble during the game, but managed to stay effective.

He said, “When I got in foul trouble I thought I might lose the flow and feel of the game, but I still stuck a couple of big shots late which is always nice to do.”

Eisner was happy with the way the offense played.

“Anytime you have balance you’re harder to guard. I thought we did a nice job of sharing the basketball,” Eisner said. “We had 19 assists and nine turnovers. Anytime you’re getting 19 assists on 30 baskets you’re doing a good job offensively.”

Junior guard Corey Jeffs shoots a free throw in overtime during Friday’s game. The Warriors defeated the Minot State Beavers at home 84-82 to break Winona State’s three-game losing streak. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)
Junior guard Corey Jeffs shoots a free throw in overtime during Friday’s game. The Warriors defeated the Minot State Beavers at home 84-82 to break Winona State’s three-game losing streak. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)

Bauman, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, played some of his best basketball since early December, scoring 17 points against Minot State, followed by 16 against the University of Mary. Eisner said Bauman gives the team another dimension to go along with fellow big-man Gathje, who has become one of the most consistent scorers this season.

“It’s great to have Kyle back playing how we’re all used to Kyle playing. He’s as healthy as he’s going to be this season,” Eisner said.

The Warriors are now 10-10 and will look to keep the momentum going forward into the final six games of the season.

“We needed these wins. We’ve been struggling, but we’ve been right there,” Bambenek said. “We know we’re getting better and finally getting back in the win column. It’s the last month of the year now, so hopefully we can get some wins and then see what happens in the post season.”

Next weekend, Winona State takes on Minnesota State University Moorhead and Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., two of the better teams in the conference with records of 18-4 and 16-6, respectively.

“This is the time of year where the teams that keep playing are the teams that get hot—we have to try to get hot,” Eisner said, “We have a heck of a road trip next week; we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Winona State Warriors are currently in sixth place in the NSIC-South with a conference record of 7-9.

By Adam Kirk