The Gustavus men’s basketball team solidified its hold on first place in the MIAC with a heartstopping 73-72 overtime win over Macalester at Gus Young Court in St. Peter. Doug Espenson’s three-point basket with :08 left in the overtime allowed the Gusties to claim the thrilling victory. Gustavus improves to 16-4 overall and 14-1 in the MIAC, while Macalester falls to 13-7 overall and 12-3 in the MIAC.
The much anticipated showdown between the first and second place teams lived up to its billing as the two heavyweights battled toe-to-toe for 45 minutes. Statistically, the two teams were virtually identical as Gustavus made 27-of-55 field goal attempts(49.1%), while Macalester knocked down 26-of-55 attempts (47.3%). The Scots held a 31-29 advantage on the boards, while both teams committed 14 turnovers. Gustavus held a slight advantage in three-point shooting as the Gusties made seven-of-12 treys (58.3%), while Macalester made five-of-15 from behind the arc (33.3%).
Gustavus held the upper hand in the early going and held an 13-point lead (20-7) with 9:23 remaining in the first half. The Scots rallied to score the next eight points to cut the lead to five at 20-15 at the 7:10 mark. Macalester stayed close and cut the lead to two (32-30) on a layup by Adam Denny with :21 left in the half. Gustavus brought the ball down and held the ball for the last shot and Doug Espenson knocked down a three-point basket as the buzzer sounded to give the Gusties a five-point 35-30 lead at the intermission.
In the second half, Gustavus slowly built its lead back up to double digits and the Gusties held an 11-point lead at 52-41 when Phil Sowden scored a layup with 10:02 left in regulation. Just like the first half, the Scots immediately countered with a quick 8-2 run to cut the lead to five at 54-49 with 8:02 remaining. Macalester stayed close the rest of the game and a three-point basket by Chris Assel with 2:23 left tied the game at 66-66. One minute later, a jumper by Ben Van Thorre gave the Scots their first lead of the game at 68-66 with 1:25 left to play. The Gusties came right down and tied the score at 68-68 on a basket by Phil Sowden with :51 left in regulation. Each team committed a turnover in the waning moments before Chris TeBrake missed a layup with :03 left. Gustavus got the ball out of bounds with 2.8 seconds left and Doug Espenson got off a shot at the buzzer that bounced off the rim sending the game into overtime.
The Scots took their second lead of the game (70-68), early in the overtime on two free throws by Van Thorre. A made jumper by Espenson on the Gusties next possession tied the score again at 70-70. An Adam Denny layup with 1:31 remaining put the Scots back on top 72-70. A turnover by Espenson at the other end of the floor put Macalester in the driver’s seat, but a missed three-point attempt by Chris Assel with :45 left gave the Gusties one last chance. Without calling a timeout, Gustavus worked the ball patiently around the perimeter until Espenson broke free and calmly sank the game-winning three-point basket with :08 left on the clock. The Scots called a timeout and then brought the ball down for one last chance, but point-guard Erik Jackson had the ball bounce off his knee as he was making a move to the basket and Gustavus post Brett Boese grabbed the loose ball to seal the victory.
The win clinches a playoff spot for the Gusties and gives them a two-game lead over Macalester for first place with five games to play. Coach Mark Hanson’s squad will be battling to win the program’s first regular season MIAC Championship since the 1996-97 season. The Gusties have finished second five of the past six seasons.
The road will not be easy for the Gusties however, as they travel to St. Thomas on Saturday, before playing St. Mary’s at home (Feb. 11), St. John’s on the road (Feb. 14), Bethel at home (Feb. 18) and Carleton on the road (Feb. 21).