The University Mary was on the ropes Friday night against a top-notch NSIC team.
Down 15 midway through the second half, the Marauders came back swinging.
Keith Hunter and Tom Kubank combined for seven second-half 3-pointers, but Minnesota State University-Moorhead survived the onslaught for an entertaining 89-82 win at the McDowell Activity Center. Hunter turned in a stellar 30-point performance on just 19 shots, making 12 of them. He also passed out six assists.
“I’m really proud of the way our kids fought. They kept coming back and coming back and made it really interesting against a really good team,” said U-Mary head coach Joe Kittell. “Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but we’re a better basketball team than we were (against Minot State). We can’t rest on this, but we’re getting better and that’s what we need to see.”
It was a valiant effort by the Marauders against Chad Walthall’s powerful MSU Moorhead team, which is picked fourth in the NSIC.
“This is my eighth year here and it’s just unbelievably tough to win here,” Walthall said. “They played really well. They just wouldn’t miss for a while there. It got loud, it was exciting … great college basketball game.
“Any time you leave this gym with more points than they have at the end of the game, you feel really good.”
Things could not have started any better for the Marauders.
An early flurry of 3-pointers, including two each by Hunter and Brody Sharkey, had the home team up 20-8 and the crowd rocking. Sharkey’s second bomb put the Marauders up 12 with 12:52 still to play in the opening 20 minutes.
“They came out and took it too us. It was just a matter of surviving the start and finding our footing,” Walthall said.
From there, however, the well went dry.
The Marauders went eight minutes and 33 seconds without a single point.
“We started great. We got a lot of good shots and were knocking them down,” Kittell said. “We had a couple of bad possessions, then we started to rush a little bit and it kinda snowballed … but we were still down by just seven at halftime.”
Meanwhile, the Dragons shook off a sluggish start. Three straight triples, the last by Evan Hines, cut U-Mary’s lead from 12 to three (20-17) in less than 60 seconds.
The struggles continued for the Marauders. Over an 11-minute stretch, the lead changed hands from 20-8 U-Mary, to 30-23 Dragons.
“You don’t ever feel comfortable here,” Walthall said. “Listen, they have some really nice players. They’re like us. You have new faces and it takes times, but I tell you, they’re a dangerous team. There’s no doubt about it.”
On the verge of being blown out, the Marauders found some magic.
After trailing by as many as 15 (62-47), Tom Kubank and Hunter caught fire.
Kubank splashed home three straight from downtown and Hunter hit a pair to get the Marauders within 79-76 with 70 seconds left.
“We kept running the play to Tom and we were getting the switch we wanted and he made some really big shots,” Kittell said.
Hunter made it 85-82 with a driving basket with 18 seconds left, but Johnny Beeninga and Hines combined to go 6-for-6 on free throws in the final 50 seconds to seal it.
“You can see the amount of growth in Keith’s game in a really short period of time,” Kittell said. “He played extremely well.”
Being clutch from the stripe was key for the Dragons.
“We made free throws down the stretch,” Walthall said. “We needed to because they kept coming.”
Beeninga’s 26 points were a career-high for the Dragons, who improved to 3-4. Travaun Coad added 19.
Preseason NSIC favorite Northern State is in town tonight to cap off a tough early-season home doubleheader.
“We need to bring this type of effort, this type of energy. Northern is really, really good,” Kittell said. “That’s how it is in this league. They keep coming at you, one after the next.”