The Gustavus men’s basketball team shot 61.7 percent from the field on its way to defeating Bethel College 76-59 in a MIAC Playoff semifinal game. Freshman post Phil Sowden scored a career hight 22 points to lead the Gusties. Coach Mark Hanson’s squad will now host Macalester, a 79-65 winner over Concordia, for the MIAC Playoff Championship at 7:30 pm on Saturday night.
The Gusties ran their motion offense to near perfection throughout the contest which resulted in the team shooting a gaudy 61.7 percent from the field (29-47). The shooting was equally impressive in both halves as Gustavus made 17-of-28 in the first half (60.7%) and 12-of-19 in the second half (63.2%). The Gusties were also able to slow down Bethel’s high-powered offense (72.7 ppg) in the second half limiting the Royals to 25 points on nine-of-26 shooting from the field (34.6%). Gustavus held Bethel to three points over a seven minute stretch midway through the second half. During that stretch, Gustavus outscored the Royals 25-3 and which resulted in a 17-point, 64-47 lead with 8:33 remaining in the game. Bethel would not get closer than 15 points the rest of the contest.
The patient Gustavus offense worked the ball inside-and-out for very high percentage shots. Sowden was the beneficiary of the impressive ball movement as he worked his way open on the block repeatedly. As a result, the freshman post from Brooklyn Park, Minn., made nine-of-ten shots from the field and was four-of-six from the free throw line for his 22 points. Tim Brown also continued his hot-shooting as he made six-of-11 from the field (including one-of-two from the behind the arc) and was three-of-three from the free throw line for 16 points. Brown has made 23-of-32 shots from the field (58.9%) and 10-of-12 from three-point range (83.3%) in the past three games. He is averaging 19.7 ppg during that stretch. Doug Espenson was also in double-digits for the Gusties with 11.
Bethel, which shot 40.7 percent from the field (22-54), placed three players in double figures including John Jacobs and Tim Gilbert with 16 and Travis Jones with 10. Jacobs was seven-of-nine from the field, while Gilbert, who scored 38 against Carleton on Tuesday, shot a cool 33 percent field (6-of-18) against the pressure defense of Gustavus.
Tonight’s matchup between Gustavus and Bethel was the third consecutive year (and fourth time in the past five years) that the two teams have locked up in the MIAC Playoff semifinals. The Gusties have now won three of the four meetings including two in a row. All four of the games have been played at Gustavus.
The Gustie win sets up the much anticipated re-match with Macalester on Saturday. Gustavus and Macalester split their two regular season meetings. The Scots claimed a 66-54 win in St. Paul on January 5, and the Gusties posted a thrilling 73-72 overtime win in Saint Peter on February 4. Gustavus (21-5 overall) will be making its 12th appearance in the the MIAC Playoff Championship. The Gusties defeated St. Thomas 62-36 in the final last year in St. Paul. Macalester (18-8 overall) will be making its first ever appearance in the MIAC Playoff Championship game.