BY TURNER BLAUFUSS
The MSUM men’s basketball team had a two-game homestand last weekend. They battled hard in a 109-107 overtime loss to the Upper Iowa Peacocks and a buzzer-beating 82-80 win against the Winona State Warriors.
The Dragons ran into trouble Friday night in the first game, with Jordan Riewer breaking his hand in the first half of the Upper Iowa game. The Dragon captain has been essential to the team’s success, but his teammates have been helping fill the void.
“I’m really proud of our guys. Obviously we’re missing our captain, our leader and a big part of our team, but I thought our guys responded really well,” head coach Chad Walthall said. “Malik (Wood) has stepped into a starting role and has been big for us.”
In the overtime period, after the Dragons couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer in regulation, the game stayed the same with both teams going back and forth.
After Wood sank a pair of free throws, Upper Iowa’s Joey Woods drew a three-point play with two and a half seconds left to take the final lead. Wood lead the Dragons with 25 points in Riewer’s absence, and Tarell Clark scored 16 points while leading the rebounding effort with 18.
The Saturday night game saw another tight matchup with the Dragons knocking off the No. 25 ranked Winona State off of Aaron Lien’s baseline jumper with two seconds left to put the Dragons ahead 82-80.
“We just kind of tell our guys you just got to play,” Walthall said. “And Prescott (Williams) made a great play getting it over to Aaron (Lien), and the shot he made, we call a ‘Spud Shot’, because it’s mid-range and he’s probably one of the best mid-range players I’ve ever coached. I’ll take it every time.”
Lien, a true freshman, paced the Dragons all night with 18 points. He was matched by sophomore Tyler Vaughan’s 18. Both players are young, but showed they don’t shy away from a big moment in crunch time, as Lien hit the game winner, and Vaughan hit some huge shots cutting the Warrior lead down.
The Dragons found themselves down nine at the half as they couldn’t find an answer for the Warriors’ shooting, especially Winona State’s redshirt freshman Riley Bambenek, who scored 19 of his 26 points to lead all scorers.
“We hung in there, and all of the sudden they started missing some shots. I thought we handled ourselves with great poise and handled it very well,” Walthall said. “(Bambanek) is really, really good. I can’t recall, since I’ve been in the league, someone that young being that good.”
The Dragons return at 8 p.m. on Friday to Nemzek Fieldhouse play St. Cloud State in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action. The Dragons bring a 15-5 overall record and 10-1 home record into Friday’s game.