’Cats fall short Friday, win strong Saturday

Shawn Henley, Staff Writer

Wayne State College men’s basketball team fell just short in a comeback effort in Friday’s game against Southwest Minnesota State, 85-82, but came back strong on Saturday to pick up the win over Sioux Falls, 80-68.

“We knew coming in that Friday’s game was going to be a grind and very physical,” Assistant Coach Nathan Stover said. “We were outsized and outmuscled at every position on the court.”

The Wildcats got off to the start they had hoped for, getting 4-0 and 7-6 leads. However, the Mustangs gained control, scoring seven straight points to lead 13-7 in the first half.

WSC fought back to within one point of the Mustangs but couldn’t retake the lead, as the Mustangs led at halftime, 37-30.

“In the first half, they scored on three straight baseline out-of-bounds plays,” Stover said. “That was unexpected, and I thought our guys were ready for handling out-of-bounds situations.”

The Mustangs pulled away to open the second half, leading by 12 with 16:55 remaining. With a little under eight minutes remaining, the Mustangs still had a 10-point lead. This began an uphill battle for the Wildcats, as they clawed back to within two points with 51 seconds to go.

Following junior guard Austin Esters’ layup, the Wildcats had a chance to tie or take the lead on the next possession. Sophomore guard Vance Janssen missed a three-pointer on the possession leading to a Wildcats foul, and two free throws were made by the Mustangs’ Ryan Bruggeman.

Janssen made a layup with a little under two seconds left to cut the lead to two points again, but the Wildcats had to foul, sending Bruggeman to the free throw line once again. He nailed one free throw and the game was over.

“I felt that for 30 minutes of the game, we were the better team,” Stover said. “Especially in the second half, they were on their heels.”

Sophomore guard Kendall Jacks had a game-high 25 points, going 9-13 from the floor and 5-6 from the free throw line. Janssen had 18 points and Esters had 16, going 7-9 shooting.

The Mustangs improved to 20-4 overall and 15-4 in NSIC play following Friday’s game.

Fatigue from Friday night seemed to set in early in Saturday’s game as the ‘Cats got off to a slow start against Sioux Falls.

“We were tired,” Stover said. “Even in the locker room, guys were yawning. It had me concerned if our guys had any energy for this game.”

Sioux Falls built a 10-point lead early in the first half. With 11:49 remaining, the Wildcats kicked it into overdrive and went on a 14-2 run as junior guard JJ Zumbrennen nailed a three-point shot, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

The remainder of the first half was closely contested, as the Wildcats had a 41-34 lead at halftime.

Jacks nailed a three-pointer to open the second half, which was followed by a USF three-pointer of their own by Clint Thomas to cut the Wildcat lead to seven. This was as close as the Cougars could get to WSC for the rest of the game. WSC remained ahead by double-digits as the game ended.

“We were pretty dominant in the second half,” Stover said. “We shot the ball well and it was another all-around balanced attack.”

The Wildcats had four scorers in double digits as Jacks led scoring with 17, followed by junior forward Jordan Cornelius (12), Janssen (11) and junior guard Brian Goodwin (10).

“It was senior night for USF,” Stover said. “So, it was fun going into their place and handing it to them.”

The Wildcats improved to 9-17 overall and 7-13 in NSIC play, while the Cougars fell to 13-15 overall and 9-11 in NSIC play.

The Wildcats will conclude the regular season this weekend with back-to-back home games Friday and Saturday night against Upper Iowa at 8 p.m. and Winona State at 6 p.m.