Led by balanced scoring attack from both veteran leaders and young talent, the Gustavus women’s basketball team was able to hold off Bethel 67-63 in the first round of the MIAC Playoffs on Tuesday night in St. Peter, Minn. Four Gusties scored in double-figures, as Molly Mathiowetz led the way with a team-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Bethel’s Taylor Sheley led all scorers with 25 points – 21 of which came in the second half.
The Gustavus women’s basketball team improves to 17-9 on the year, while Bethel finishes its season with a record of 15-11.
“It was a playoff game, and this is what playoff games are supposed to be like,” said Head Coach Mickey Haller about the up and down nature of tonight’s game. “But it was nice to hold on at the end and move on to Thursday.”
The Gusties got out to a bit of a slow start, going 4-for-11 from the field and trailing 15-10 by the 10:39 mark. A layup by Molly Geske sparked an 11-2 run that gave Gustavus a 21-17 edge by the 4:28 point. Eli Benz gave Gustavus its first lead (19-17) within the run, knocking down a key three-pointer from the left corner.
“Both teams were a little nervous and started out a little slow in the first five minutes, but once we got through that, I really felt like we hit our stride about half-way through the half,” commented Haller.
It was Gustavus’ defense that sparked the run late in the first half, as Bethel did not hit a field goal for over an over eight-minute time-span from 10:39 to 2:38. A free throw by Geske and a layup by Mathiowetz gave the Gusties a 32-23 edge heading into the locker rooms.
“I think our defense spurred everything tonight,” said Haller. “It got us going throughout the game.”
Scottie Moats was the leading scorer in the half with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting. Gustavus was led by Geske and Mathiowetz with six points each. In the half, the Gusties shot 42.4-percent from the field, while Bethel shot 26.9-percent.
After giving up the opening basket of the second half, Mathiowetz scored on Gustavus’ next two possessions, putting back an offensive rebound on both occasions to give Gustavus its first double-digit lead at 36-25 (18:30). Mathiowetz would go on to score 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the half.
The Gusties would have to fend off a pair of Bethel second half scoring-surges on the way to the win. Following a three pointer by Taylor Sheley that cut the lead to four points (42-38) at the 12:02 mark, the Gusties responded with a 9-1 run that put them back up 51-39 with over eight minutes left in the game.
Bethel’s final push came following an Eli Benz layup at the 5:08 point (57-48), as the Royals outscored the Gusties 10-1 in a three-minute window to tie the game at 58-58 with 2:14 to play. Coach Haller’s squad answered in a big way coming out of a timeout, going inside to Eli Benz for a layup and scoring the next six points to lead 64-58 with :35 seconds on the clock.
Free throws sealed the victory for Gustavus, as Colleen Ruane went 4-for-4 and Mathiowetz 1-for-2 in the final minute. Mathiowetz’s free toss with :03 seconds left put the game out of reach at 67-63 for Bethel’s final possession.
“I was thinking, you’re a senior you can’t miss two, get one,” said Mathiowetz on her game-sealing trip to the line.
Taylor Sheley kept the Royals in the game throughout the half, going 8-for-12 from the field and 5-for-6 from the beyond the arc for 21 points. The Gusties shot a hot 60-percent form the field in the frame, as Bethel shot 52.4-percent, going 11-for-13 at the line.
“She’s [Taylor Sheley] is the one that all you can do is try to keep the ball out of her hands, and when she does have it you can’t leave her. We know that she and Moats are going to get their points, but what we concentrated on was keeping them off the free throw line and containing them when they get hot,” said Haller.
The Gustavus bench had one of its most productive games of the season, scoring 12 points in the first half and 14 in the second. Eli Benz (13 pts) and Abby Rothenbuehler (10 pts) led the way off the pine with a combined 23 points.
“We only went three-deep on the bench tonight, but I thought Abby Rothenbueler, Steph Comer, and Eli Benz did a nice job giving us a lot of energy throughout the game,” said Haller about the play of her bench.
The Gusties out-rebounded the Royals 35-to-26 in the game. Gustavus finished the contest 26-for-53 from the field, 3-for-9 from three point range, and 12-for-16 at the line. Bethel went 18-for-47 from the field, 7-for-16 from three, and 20-for-24 at the line.
The Gustavus women’s basketball team will now travel to St. Paul where it will take on St. Thomas in the MIAC Playoff Quarterfinals on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
“We are excited to go up there. We have lost to them twice this year, we know that, but on Thursday we have to do a much better job of being physical on the blocks and stepping up with our defense on the perimeter,” said Haller about her team’s upcoming game with #1 seed St. Thomas.