Men’s Basketball Pulls Out Nail-Biter In 68-65 Victory Over No. 5 St. Thomas

Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by

ST. PETER, MINN. – The Gustavus Adolphus men’s basketball team was able to weather a strong St. Thomas comeback effort in the second half on its way to a 68-65 victory over the No. 5 Tommies on Wednesday evening at Gus Young Court. With it being the MIAC-opener, Gustavus moves to 1-0 in conference play and 4-1 overall, while St. Thomas suffered its first loss of the season and falls to 0-1 in MIAC play and 4-1 overall.

“I think any win in the conference is important, but it’s obviously nice to start off the conference schedule 1-0, especially against a quality opponent like St. Thomas,” said head coach Mark Hanson. “I don’t think either team played its best basketball, but I was very happy with how we played tonight and am happy that we’re able to start out MIAC play on such a positive note.”

Despite battling a recent bout with the flu, junior guard Gary Cooper (Detroit, Mich.) was able keep Gustavus in stride with St. Thomas early, as he scored the Gusties’ first four points. Gustavus only trailed twice in the first half, at 3-4 and 5-6, and after those early deficits, managed to control the game’s opening half. Leading 14-11 with 12:22 on the clock, Gustavus managed to go on a small, but meaningful 5-0 run that pushed its lead to 19-11. Five minutes later with the Gusties holding a 27-22 lead, Chad Poppen (Jr., St. Peter, Minn.) converted back-to-back three-pointers that put Gustavus up 33-24, its largest lead of the game and one that would allow Gustavus to take a 35-29 lead into the locker room at the half. Defense was key, as Gustavus was able to hold St. Thomas leading scorer Grant Shaeffer to only two points in the first half, which came on a pair of free-throws with 2.9 seconds remaining.

“I was happy with the energy and intensity we came out with…I told our team before the game that we needed to make them match our intensity and I thought we did that,” said Hanson. “I don’t think we came out in the second half with that same intensity, but we eventually found it again and I thought we played those last 15 minutes very nicely.”

Sergio Najera scored 13 points and pulled down a team-high seven boards for the Gusties.

Sergio Najera scored 13 points and pulled down a team-high seven boards for the Gusties.

Gustavus indeed did not look like the same team early in the second half, and St. Thomas took full advantage.  The Tommies went on a 12-2 run highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers from senior guard Marcus Alipate, turning Gustavus’s six-point halftime advantage into a 52-45 Tommie lead with 11:10 left to play. However, Gustavus went on a 6-0 run to cut the St. Thomas advantage to 52-51 with 9:09 remaining and finally re-took the lead on a fast break layup from Isaac Tapp (Sr., Stewartville, Minn.) to put the Gusties up 55-54 with just 6:37 left. For the next five minutes, the teams would trade small leads and with 1:17 remaining, the game was tied at 65-65. It was then that a Brody Ziegler (Jr., Mankato, Minn.) missed jumper turned into a Sergio Najera (Jr., New Pargue, Minn.) put-back with :37 seconds remaining to put Gustavus up 67-65 and set up a dramatic finish.

An Alipate turnover gave Gustavus the ball back with :27 seconds left, however, Ziegler ended up having the ball stolen from him by Shaeffer six seconds later. St. Thomas guard Taylor Montero then missed a shot from beyond the arc, forcing the Tommies to foul Cooper who went to the free-throw line and made 1-of-2 to put the Gusties up 68-65 with :18 seconds left. The Tommies got two clean three-point looks in the game’s closing seconds, one from Montero and one from Cortez Tillman, but neither shot fell.  With the win, Gustavus was able to snap St. Thomas’s five-game win-streak in the series.

“I was thinking with a couple minutes left that, no matter how it ended, everybody would have to say that was a great game,” said head coach Mark Hanson. “Especially at this point in the season, you don’t really expect that level of feeling to a game. I thought it was a great environment for the players and fans alike and a nice time to see us come out strong. Even though we dug ourselves in a hole, we dug our way back out of that and made enough free throws down the stretch to seal a really nice win for our team.”

Gustavus tallied 14 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Tommies 37-24. The Gustie defense was also in full force, as it held St. Thomas to its lowest point total of the season and also kept the Tommies off the charity stripe, as the visitors only managed three made free-throws on five attempts.

Cooper led the Gusties with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and also grabbed five rebounds, while Najera chipped in 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting and nabbed seven boards. Ziegler and Tapp also chipped in 10 points apiece on 4-of-8 and 3-of-7 shooting, respectively, to round out Gustavus’s double digit scorers. Overall, the Gusties shot 50-percent from the floor compared to St. Thomas’s 49.1-percent.

Alipate led the Tommies with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from downtown. Shaeffer, who was averaging 19.2 points coming into the contest, was held to six points on the night, but did dish out a Tommie-high four assists.

Gustavus will play its final non-conference game of the season on Saturday when it hosts the University of Northwestern in a 3 p.m. game on Gus Young Court.

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