Second Half Comeback Propels Men’s Basketball To 64-54 Victory Over Saint John’s In MIAC Quarterfinals

Posted on February 25th, 2015 by

Junior guard Gary Cooper scored a game-high 16 points, including 10 in the second half, to help lift Gustavus to a 64-54 victory over Saint John's University in Wednesday's MIAC Quarterfinal matchup.

COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. – After falling to Saint John’s University 50-47 this past Saturday, the Gustavus Adolphus men’s basketball team made it count when it mattered most, as it returned to Sexton Arena just four days later to defeat the Johnnies 64-54 in the MIAC Playoff Quarterfinals. Gustavus trailed by as many as seven in the second half, but shot 65 percent from the floor in the game’s final half to make up the difference and earn a 10-point victory. With the win, the Gusties will advance to Friday’s semifinal game that will be played at the University of St. Thomas.

“Our entire team had success in a variety of different ways to put us over the top,” said junior guard Gary Cooper (Detroit, Mich.). “In the second half, we just stuck to our fundamentals, cut harder, screened tougher and shot the ball with more confidence. It was a complete team effort to make this win possible.”

Saint John’s got out to an early 7-4 lead, but Gustavus was able to go on an 8-0 run to take a 12-7 lead with 14:59 to play in the first half, thanks largely in part to six points from Isaac Tapp (Sr., Stewartville, Minn.) who went 3-for-3 from the floor during that stretch and also nabbed a steal. But the Johnnies would counter with a 12-3 run of their own to retake the lead (19-15) at the 8:46 mark in the first half.

The Gusties kept the game close though, and despite nine first half points from the MIAC’s fourth leading scorer in the Johnnies’ Mitchell Kuck, never trailed by more than six before halftime. A hard-fought Brody Ziegler (Jr., Mankato, Minn.) layup with 1:22 to play in the first half cut Saint John’s lead to 25-23, but an unfortunate foul call on Ziegler in the half’s final seconds allowed Kuck to shoot three free-throws and give the Johnnies a 28-23 halftime advantage.

“In order for us to continue our run, we have to put together an entire 40 minutes of play,” said Cooper. “We can’t wait until the second half to decide to play tough. If we put together a solid game on both ends for 40 minutes, I believe we can win any game.”

The second half proved to be as big a battle as the first, as both teams traded baskets for the first nine minutes and Saint John’s maintaining its slight advantage. Post play proved physical as well, as the two teams combined for 11 personal fouls in the first nine minutes of the second half.

“During the second half of the season, our biggest issue was lack of toughness and not being the most physical team,” said Cooper. “I’m really proud at how our guys responded to the physical nature of the game tonight…I think that’s been missing in prior games. Hopefully we can continue to respond like that and make a deep run.”

After Alex Schmitt hit a long two pointer that bounced off the front iron, hit the backboard and rolled in, the Gusties’ Chad Poppen (Jr., St. Peter, Minn.) came back on the next possession and banked in a three-pointer to cut the Johnnie lead to 41-37 with 10:57 to play, which seemed to ignite the Gustie offense and give the defense the motivation it needed to clamp down. Two minutes later, Gustavus had erased the Johnnie lead to tie the game at 43-43 with 8:53 to go. Three minutes after that, a Cooper jumper from the left wing allowed the Gusties to take their first second half lead with a mere 5:44 remaining on the clock.

From that point, Gustavus would never look back, and it used an 11-3 run over the next four minutes to take its largest lead to that point (58-48) with just 1:56 to play. From there, the Gusties used six free-throws to keep the Johnnies at bay and maintain its healthy advantage. When the final buzzer sounded, Gustavus had earned a 64-54 victory.

Cooper led the Gustie scoring effort with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, with 10 of those points coming in the second half. Ziegler was next in line, as he scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and pulled down a game-high eight boards to help the Gusties out-rebound Saint John’s 31-30. Peter Kruize (So., St. Peter, Minn.) also had stong effort for Gustavus, as the big man rebounded from his scoreless outing this past Saturday to pour in nine points on 3-of-4 shooting.

“I truly don’t believe this was just about the points,” said Cooper. “Chris Narum was a monster defensively in the second half. Chad Poppen hit a timely three-pointer that kept the game within range for us. Brody Ziegler was a man-child down low on both ends…and the list goes on. I was fortunate to score some clutch baskets, but this was a team effort, no doubt.”

Saint John’s was led by the efforts of Kuck (13 points on 3-of-10 shooting) and Schmitt (14 points on 5-of-13 shooting). Big-man Tyler Weiss was also effective, as he tallied eight points and four rebounds, but fouled out with 5:18 to play, leaving the Johnnies with a lack of size in the post down the stretch. The Johnnies shot just 28 percent (7-for-25) in the second half compared to Gustavus’s 65 percent (13-for 20).

Next up for the Gusties is a matchup with No. 1-seeded St. Thomas on Friday evening in St. Paul. The Gusties are 1-1 on the season against the nationally ranked Tommies, as Gustavus earned a 68-65 victory on Dec. 3 in St. Peter, but fell 64-52 on Jan. 28 in St. Paul. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Schoenecker Arena.

Gustavus 64, Saint John’s 54 (Box Score)



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