Northfield, Minn. – It is difficult to win on the road in college basketball. It is seemingly even more difficult to win on the road in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), and after dropping each of its last three games, the Gustavus men’s basketball team was in need of a road win at St. Olaf Monday night. The Gusties responded with an 83-79 victory to get their first conference win of the season. Gustavus improves to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the MIAC, while St. Olaf drops to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the MIAC.
The first half proved to be a back-and-forth battle. With each squad going stride-for-stride with the other, neither team could extend its lead to more than five points in a half that featured eight ties and 14 lead changes. Both teams came out firing on all cylinders offensively. Gustavus shot 65.0 percent (13-20) from the field, while St. Olaf made 57.1 percent (16-28) of its shots in the first 20 minutes of play. At the intermission, the score sat at 40-38 in favor of the Oles.
St. Olaf was able to push its lead to six at 46-40 in the early minutes of the second half before the Gusties went on a 16-4 run to take a six-point lead of their own. A jumper by Jim Hill (Sr., Edinal, Minn.) ignited the run at the 16:50 mark. Hill scored four points in the run, while Jordan Dick (Jr., Wabasha, Minn.) scored five points, Reed Sallstrom (Sr., Winthrop, Minn.) scored four points, Ben Biewen (Sr., Edina, Minn.) scored two points, and Brian Jacobs (So., Lake Crystal, Minn.) scored his only point of the night. It was a Sallstrom jumper that gave Gustavus the six-point advantage with 12:20 to play.
From there, the Gusties would lose the lead only once when Josh Pratt hit from three-point range at the 6:31 mark. A three from Biewen on the ensuing possession gave the lead right back to the Gusties, who would keep it for the final six minutes of the game. The Oles would cut the lead to one on two separate occasions, the last coming on another three-pointer from Pratt with :26 seconds remaining, but a pair of Sallstrom free throws pushed the Gustie lead back to three with :19 left.
The defensive play of the night came on the ensuing St. Olaf possession when Ben Biewen knocked the ball away from St. Olaf’s Connor Gunderson and into the hands of Martin Feddersen (So., Winona, Minn.) for the Gusties. Feddersen was fouled and went on to make both free throws to extend the lead to five with :13 seconds to go.
Sterling Nielsen cashed in from long range on the next possession to cut the Gustavus lead to two with :06 seconds remaining. However, Jim Hill closed the book with two free throws to solidify the four-point victory. After shooting a combined 64.2 percent (34-53) from the free throw line in their last three games, the Gusties made 82.8 percent (24-29) of their free throws on Monday, including an impressive 91.6 percent (11-12) in the last three minutes to put the game out of reach.
Five players reached double figures in the 83-point effort for Gustavus. Ben Biewen led the way with a career-high 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor and 6-for-7 from the free throw line. Biewen also tallied six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Jim Hill followed Biewen with 18 points. Hill went 7-for-8 from the line, while Jordan Dick scored in double figures for the second consecutive game with 12 points. Reed Sallstrom found his way into double figures for the first time this season, coming off the bench to score 12 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting night from the field, and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. Blake Shay (Sr., Lakeville, Minn.) also scored 10 points in the contest, all of which came in the first half.
Connor Gunderson led all scorers with 22 points for the Oles, connecting on 10-of-14 field goal tries on the evening. Sterling Nielsen also chipped in 15 points, and Josh Pratt added 12 points, including three three-pointers.
The Gusties will be in action again on Wednesday night when they host Bethel University at Gus Young Court. Tip off is set for 7:30 p.m.