MARSHALL - Their first-round opponent was young, but skilled. Up just five points on Mankato West at halftime of Tuesday's Section 2AAA boys basketball playoff game, the No. 3-seeded Marshall Tigers knew it would be a dangerous proposition to allow the sixth-seeded Scarlets to hang around much longer.
So as soon as the second half began, the Tigers started to run away.
Marshall used its pressure defense to create an up-and-down tempo that the Tigers favor and opened the half on a 12-2 run over the first five minutes, taking total control of the game and coasting to a 67-43 victory.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Marshall’s Lee Christianson, left, goes up for a shot in the lane while being fouled by Mankato West’s Carter Burmeister, center, as the Scarlets’ Kennedy Maker looks on during the first half of Tuesday’s Section 2AAA first-round playoff game at Marshall High School.
The Scarlets (7-19 overall), who start two freshmen and have no seniors on their roster, lost by just four points against the Tigers last week in Mankato and carried some confidence heading into Tuesday's rematch. The confidence remained as the the opening half progressed and Mankato West stayed within striking distance thanks to the play of 6-foot-6 junior forward Dan Wills and 5-9 freshman guard Josh Athey, who scored 10 and 11 points, respectively, in the opening half.
Marshall head coach Tom Critchley didn't like the lack of flow his team played with in the first half and told his players at halftime that it was time to get out and run.
"When you're the higher seed you want to get a little separation because the pressure is on you if the other team can stick around," Critchley said. "They did a good job of that, they hit some big shots, and we missed a couple layups and free throws in the first half that allowed them to keep it close.
Mankato West (43)
Josh Athey 4 4-5 15, Dillon Dale 0 1-2 1, Jake Dale 4 0-2 8, Austin Majeskie 1 0-0 3, Kennedy Maker 1 0-0 2, Ryan Schlichte 1 0-0 2, Dan Wills 4 4-4 12. Totals 15 9-13 43. Three-pointers 4 (Athey 3) Rebounds 29 (Wills 10) Assists 7 Steals 3 Blocks 0 Turnovers 19 Total Fouls 19.
Tanner Bukowski 4 1-2 12, Derek Buysse 1 0-0 3, Lee Christianson 2 3-5 7, Tyus DeBoer 2 4-7 8, Aaron Mathiowetz 2 2-2 6, Hunter Peterson 6 0-0 13, Austin Saugstad 0 1-3 1, Mason Schnaible 5 1-2 13, Shawn Tykwinski 1 0-0 3, Alex Werner 0 1-2 1. Totals 24 12-23 67. Three-pointers 6 (Schnaible 2) Rebounds 33 (Christianson 6, Buysse 5, DeBoer 5) Assists 13 (Saugstad 5) Steals 11 (Saugstad 4) Blocks 0 Turnovers 14 Total Fouls 15.
Halftime Score: Marshall 33, Mankato West 28.
"I told the guys to just clean up some of the things at halftime and we will go on a run to extend it. ... We wanted to get them playing fast."
The Tigers (19-8) did what their coach asked and will now move on to the section semifinals, where they will face No. 2 seed Waconia at 7 p.m. Saturday in Waconia. The Wildcats (21-6) have won 12 straight contests, including a 77-36 win over New Ulm in their first-round game.
Marshall will be going into the tough matchup following a well-balanced effort. Guards Hunter Peterson and Mason Schnaible each scored 13 points to pace the Tigers on Tuesday, and forward Tanner Bukowski added 12 points. Marshall, which shot 50 percent from the field and 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from three-point range, also got eight points from center Tyus DeBoer, and senior guard Lee Christianson tallied seven points and six rebounds.
Schnaible said Tuesday's game was played differently than last week's meeting against the Scarlets, where Marshall had a simplified game plan so as not to reveal too much to what was then a potential first-round opponent.
"The first time we played (Critchley) just let us play and didn't call many plays for us," Schnaible said. "This time we ran more of an offense and had structure. Then in the second half we got out and ran a little bit, got some easy buckets, so that helped."
The Tigers had spurts of solid play in the first half and built their largest lead of the half (23-11) after a layup by Schnaible on a strong cut to the basket on an inbounds play, followed by an aggressive drive to the hoop by Peterson, who scored on a difficult left-handed layup. But over the final seven minutes of the half, Athey connected on a pair of three-pointers and Wills scored on some strong baskets under the hoop to help the Scarlets close the half down just five at 33-28.
It was defense that sparked Marshall's offense in the second half, where the Tigers held Mankato West to just 15 points. Wills was held to just two points in the second half, thanks in part to tough interior defense by DeBoer and Mathiowetz, and Athey had just five points in the second half. Scarlet guard Alex Knutson, who scored 22 points and hit six three-pointers against Marshall last week, was held scoreless on Tuesday.
"Our guys are competitors and they weren't going to let those two (Wills and Knutson) get the same shots," said Critchley, whose team held Mankato West to just 28.8 percent shooting. "They're smart kids and they made sure that everything they were going to get they had to work for. We did a good job of closing out with hands up in the air and taking away some of their vision."
The Scarlets showed some of their youth in the second half by making poor passes against Marshall's aggressive pressure defense. They finished the game with 19 turnovers, most coming in the second half. As soon as the Tigers got their hands on a steal, they were off and running on their way to fastbreak layups.
At the tail end of Marshall's 12-2 run to open the second half, the team got a three-pointer from the left corner by Bukowski after a kick-out pass by Schnaible, a Bukowski baseline drive for a layup, and then a putback basket by DeBoer to put the Tigers up 45-30. Athey hit his third three of the game to stop the run, but the 12-point margin with 12:30 left was as close as the Scarlets would get the rest of the way as Marshall continued to use dribble penetration and its pressure defense to give Mankato West all sorts of problems.
Schnaible said he's feeling good about Marshall's chances Saturday against Waconia thanks to how his team closed out the Scarlets, but he knows it's going to be a tough task for the Tigers to take down the Wildcats and continue their Section 2AAA title defense.
"Waconia will be a tough team," Schnaible said. "They're physical, big, I think. It's in Waconia, so it'll be a good atmosphere. It should be fun."
Added Critchley, "We've got kids who like to compete and they like playing in games like that. I think we've been at our best when we've played the better teams on our schedule. Hopefully that trend continues this weekend."