St. Joseph, Minn. - Despite another slow start, head women’s basketball coach Laurie Kelly can sleep easier knowing that, for right now, her squad is second half team. The Gusties were able to come away with its second straight MIAC victory after using a strong second half push to defeat the College of Saint Benedict 64-61 on Saturday afternoon in Claire Lynch Hall. The Gusties overcame a ten point deficit in the final 10 minutes of the contest, benefiting from a 58.3-percent shooting performance in the second half and out-scoring the Blazers 12-to-4 in the final five minutes.
Gustavus improves to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the MIAC with the win, while Saint Ben’s is now 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the MIAC.
“It was a very nice win for us,” said Laurie Kelly. “As a fan, it was one of those games that is tough to watch a team lose – that’s how fun it was. It was an exciting, clean, well-played game and that’s what college basketball is all about. To travel to a tough place to play like Saint Ben’s and come away with a win is a huge boost for this team. It was a great game and we’re fortunate to come away with a victory.”
After Gustavus jumped out to an 11-7 lead by the 14:14 mark of the first half, Saint Ben’s used a 10-2 run to go up 17-13 by the halfway point. After Gustavus tied the game at 19-19, the Blazers took back the lead two possessions later and wouldn’t relinquish it for the remainder of the half.
Even though Gustavus outshot the Saint Ben’s 45.5 to 31.3-percent from the field in the half, the Blazers still held a 35-27 lead at the break.
“We started out slow – struggling to score and turning the ball over far too often. Although we outshot them in the first half, we gave them so many more opportunities with offensive rebounds and turnovers,” said Kelly.
The Blazers had 11 offensive rebounds and forced 12 Gustavus turnovers in the first half.
“Much like Augsburg,” mentioned Kelly, “we came out much more poised in the second half. We worked for good shots and stepped up on defense.”
Once Saint Ben’s went up 10 points (53-43) on a jumper by Elena Koch at 10:21 of the second half, the Gusties would begin to chip away at the lead. In a less than five-minute time-span, Gustavus made up a nine point deficit to grab its first lead of the game at 58-57 on a Julia Dysthe (White Bear Lake, Minn.) layup. Gustavus would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the contest, outscoring the Blazers 6-4 from that point on to hold on for the victory.
“Abby Rothenbuehler and Kelsey Florian were big for us down the stretch,” state Kelly. ” We have also been encouraging Julia to be more aggressive on offense because she’s a great shooter and an integral part of our scoring attack.”
Abby Rothenbuehler (North Mankato, Minn.) and Dysthe led the Gusties in the second half with 14 and 9 points, respectively. Kelsey Florian (Roseville, Minn.) went 2-for-3 from the field and 3-for-3 at the line for seven points in the half. Gustavus limited its turnovers (8), outrebounded the Blazers (15-14), and held its opponent to just 26 points on 37.5-percent shooting in the second half.
“I think we try to do too much too early,” said Kelly on her squad’s second half turnaround. “We take better care of the ball and begin to settle in on defense. We held Saint Ben’s to just 26 points in the second half, which is an outstanding performance. Ben’s is a scrappy team who was on the floor fighting for every loose ball. We did a great job keeping them off the glass in the second half.”
Gustavus’ Rothenbuehler, Dysthe, and Florian all finished in double-figures by the end of the afternoon. Rothenbuehler led the way with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting while also bringing down seven rebounds. Dysthe went 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point range to score 17 points. Florian rounded out the group with 11 points after going 3-for-5 from the floor and 5-for-7 at the line.
Gustavus shot 52.2-percent (24-46) from the field, 36.4-percent (4-11) from three, and 70.6-percent (12-17) from the line.
Saint Ben’s Brianna Barrett stood out in the box score with a game-high 19 points after going 6-for-8 from the field, 2-for-4 from three, and 5-for-6 at the charity stripe.
The Blazers outrebounded the Gusties 35-30 and also won the turnover battle 15-20. As a team, Saint Ben’s shot 33.9-percent (19-56) from the floor, 46.2-percent (6-13) from three-point range, and 73.9-percent (17-23) at the stripe.
The Gustavus women’s basketball team will be back in action on Monday night when it plays host to St. Olaf College at 7:30 p.m. on Gus Young Court.
“We need to come out stronger,” said Kelly about Gustavus’ home-opener against St. Olaf. “Monday will be our first game at home and a chance to set the tone on our own court. If you want to make a run at a conference championship, you need to take care of business at home – that’s where it starts. We need to take this momentum with us and try to put together a complete 40 minutes instead of just one strong half.”