FREMONT, Neb. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team outdueled a top-15 offense on Saturday evening to earn the team its first home victory of the 2019-20 campaign.
The Warriors (5-10, 2-6 GPAC) fought fire with fire to outduel the Briar Cliff Chargers (11-7, 2-6 GPAC) en route to a 99-86 conference victory. The win is the first in the series for Midland since 2017 and ends a three-game winning streak for the Chargers.
“We are really proud of the fight we had against a really good Briar Cliff team,” said Midland head coach Oliver Drake. “We were dialed in all night to our plan and responded to everything that came our way.”
The Warriors have struggled on defense at times this season, but locked in in this one. Briar Cliff entered the game with the 14th-highest point-per-game total in Division II, averaging 89.4 per contest. Midland held the Chargers three points shy of that mark on Saturday and set a new season high with 99 points to nullify the offensive prowess of their conference foe.
Sophomore guard Bowen Sandquist led the way for Midland and tied his career high with 30 points, thanks in part to shooting 8-for-13 from three-point range. Sandquist has scored 27+ points in three of that last four games to lead his team in competitive stretches. He also helped hold Jackson Lamb, the nation’s fourth-best scorer (24.6 PPG), to a season-low eight points on Saturday.
“Bo has been great for us lately and was a difference maker at both ends of the floor tonight,” Drake said.
Briar Cliff was led by Jaden Kleinhesslink as he totaled a new career-high 34 points while adding eight rebounds. Conner Groves came off the bench and knocked down seven threes in the game, adding 21 points to Briar Cliff’s cause.
Midland was balanced offensively as four players scored in double figures and all seven guys who took the floor scored a minimum of eight points.
Freshman forward Samuel Mailloux got the Warriors started as he found his stroke from the outside by knocking down two threes and scoring eight of Midland’s first 14 points. The Pender, Nebraska native went on to finish with 16 points, 10 coming in the post, to equal his career high that he set on Thursday versus Jamestown.
“Sam and (freshman Hunter Mengel) were huge inside all night,” Drake said. “(Freshman Kylan Smallwood) played some big minutes off the bench for us, too. We were solid and sound up and down our lineup and it was a lot of fun to watch.”
Mailloux started a crucial stretch for Midland in the first half as the Warriors hit four three-pointers in five possessions to extend their lead to seven points near the halfway point of the first half. The teams traded baskets back and forth from that point until the final seconds when a tip-in for Smallwood gave Midland a 10-point lead going into halftime.
Midland’s lead grew to 14 within the first four minutes of the half, but a 12-0 run for Briar Cliff got the Chargers right back in it as the intensity ramped up. Midland weathered the storm and scored eight straight after that, highlighted by an alley-oop to Mengel, to get the lead back to double-digits, where it stayed for the remainder of the game.
The Warriors secured the game at the free throw line as they shot 17-for-19 from the line compared to 8-for-11 shooting from the Chargers, who entered as the best free throw shooting team in Division II (79.7 percent). Midland also limited itself to a season-low four turnovers while forcing 14 from the Chargers.
Sophomore Emanuel Bryson and junior Laurence Merritt scored 16 and 12 points, respectively, to add to Midland’s point total while combining for 10 assists.
“Manny was rock solid and got us no nonsense looks when we needed them the most, and Laurence had another great game floor game for us,” Drake said.
The Warriors showed great discipline in such a fast-paced game on Saturday to earn their second conference win. The guys know they are capable of scoring when needed, but a good defensive effort may get their minds synced up more moving forward as they try to improve as a team.
“We keep telling our guys to stay the course and the results will follow,” Drake said, “and tonight we got the ‘W’.”
Midland stays home for another conference matchup this coming Wednesday, Jan. 8, with a game against the Doane Tigers. Tipoff in Fremont in schedule for 8:00 p.m.