Mavericks break open close game with second-half spurt
WORTHINGTON -- Stringing together a 23-2 run over nearly a seven-minute stretch of the second half Wednesday night, the nation's top-ranked NJCAA Division III men's basketball team -- the Minneapolis Community and Technical College Mavericks -- broke open a close game and claimed its 21st victory of the season, defeating Minnesota West by a final score of 89-66.
The contest was much closer than that final margin as the Bluejays stayed on the heels of the Mavericks (21-1, 7-0) for 27 minutes, trailing just 55-53 with 13:07 to play in the game.
But then, Minneapolis -- which had maintained small leads throughout an evenly-played first half -- began to take command and by the 6:48 mark had opened up a 78-55 advantage.
"We are better at playing man-to-man defense, which is what we did the whole second half," explained veteran Mavericks' coach Jay Pivic, who is in his 19th season at MCTC. "We played a couple of zones and utilized that box-and-one to try to contain No. 12 (freshman guard Jordan Buddenhagen) in the first half. But then in the second half, we made use of our athleticism and our depth."
Buddenhagen, who is the grandson of long-time area coach Ty Wacker, was guarded man-to-man in the first half, while four other Mavericks played a "box" zone.
The strategy was only employed when Buddenhagen, who was averaging 18.9 points per game in Southern Division action (second highest in the seven-team division), was on the floor. When the shooting wizard from Huron, S.D. went to the bench for a rest, Pivic put his team into either a 2-3 or a 1-3-1 zone defense.
Buddenhagen had sprung free for a deep 3-pointer on West's first possession, giving the Bluejays an early 3-2 lead. But he would only get four shots off the entire first half, hitting one more 3-pointer with 41 seconds left.
"We did what we felt we needed to do with him (Buddenhagen)," Pivic said. "But we gave up some baskets to their other players, including No. 22 (sophomore guard Aaron Delany) that we did not expect."
Delany was 4-of-7 from the field and completed a three-point play to finish the first half with a team-high nine points for West, while rugged Cory Lesnar battled inside strong for the Bluejays and scored six of MW's first 13 points.
Four players scored early in the game for West in the game's first five minutes, as the Jays trailed 15-13 after Delany scored on nice move and Lesnar powered up an offensive rebound bucket.
Lesnar later found a slicing Delany down the lane with a nice feed and the Jays were again within two at 17-15.
A pair of free throws by Lesnar closed the count to 19-17, but the Mavericks -- who have been top-ranked nationally for five weeks -- scored two straight transition baskets to take their largest lead, 23-17, with 11:08 to play in the half.
Fifty seconds later, the Bluejays tied the contest as freshman forward Stevie Statz and sophomore guard Devon Harrell each connected on 3-pointers.
"We moved the ball well in the first half and made some clutch shots," praised MW head coach Justin Heckenlaible. "We adjusted to their changing defenses quite well and got some good looks, which we put down."
A bit later, West had a pair of chances to take the lead, as its changing defensive schemes came up with consecutive stops.
A nifty feed from freshman guard John Jones to a slashing Dan Stryzinski, put the 6-4 freshman guard from Duluth, Ga. at the free throw line. Stryzinski made one shot, making the score 25-24, Minneapolis.
Statz pulled down one of his team-high nine rebounds for the Jays and West had its first opportunity to go ahead.
But the Mavericks got a stop and scored, taking a 27-24 lead. After a jumper by Statz trimmed the lead to one again (27-26), the Jays forced a turnover and had another chance to get the lead.
But again, West came up empty and Cameron Hodges drilled a timely 3-pointer, putting Minneapolis up by four, 30-26.
The Mavericks stretched their lead back to six, 37-31, before West countered with a strong run to close the half.
Stryzinski scored on a nice drive down the lane, Buddenhagen fired a sharp pass to a wide-open Josh VanDuyn for a basket, VanDuyn scored on putback, Stryzinski found Buddenhagen in the corner and Stryzinski made a free throw -- getting fouled after dribbling behind-his-back at full speed in traffic -- to cap a 10-6 MW run.
The Mavericks, however, held a 43-41 lead as the second half began.
Both teams defended well for the first seven minutes after intermission, as the scoring paced slowed down from the intense action of the game's first 20 minutes.
A strong move to the hoop by Stryzinski brought the Bluejays to within one point again, trailing 48-47 with 15:52 to play.
But 1:18 later, the Mavericks opened up their largest lead, taking a 55-47 edge.
Starting with a 3-point play by Stryzinski -- off a loose-ball pickup -- and followed by a 3-point shot by Harrell from the left wing, the Bluejays rallied back again, trimming the lead to 55-53 with 13:07 remaining.
"We expected a battle," said Pivic. "Justin's teams always give an excellent effort and they did again tonight. We were able to get several scores in a row and finally open up the spread -- then when they (MW) had to go to man-to-man to try to catch-up, we were better."
Heckenlaible agreed with that assessment.
"They are number one in the nation for a reason," he said. "We were able to stay close when each team was playing zone defense. But when they went man and then when we had to go man, the outcome switched their way."
Five Mavericks scored in double figures, as twin brothers Kenny Olafeso (20) and Peter Olafeso (18) combined for 38 points and did the majority of the visitors scoring during the game-winning run.
Delany finished with a team-high 16 points for the Bluejays (6-14, 2-6), who travel to play the Rochester Yellowjackets Saturday.
Lesnar (seven rebounds) and Buddenhagen (three assists) each scored 10 points, while Statz had a team-leading four assists and blocked two shots.
Minneapolis 43 46 -- 89
Minnesota West 41 25 -- 66
MCTC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Mayberry 1-3-3-12, K.Olafeso 1-7-3-20, Kelly 0-0-2-2, Williams 0-1-0-2, Ball 1-0-2-5, P.Olafeso 2-6-0-18, Wallace 0-4-3-11, Johnson 0-1-0-2, Hodges 2-3-3-15, Moore 0-1-0-2. Totals 7-26-16-89.
MW (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Statz 1-1-0-5, Lesnar 0-3-4-10, VanDuyn 0-4-0-8, Buddenhagen 2-1-2-10, Harrell 2-0-0-6, Eichenberger 0-1-0-2, Delany 1-6-1-16, Stryzinski 0-3-3-9. Totals 6-19-10-66.