YANKTON, S.D. – Midland University men’s basketball looked dead to rights in the first half on Saturday afternoon, but nearly staged an improbable second-half comeback versus a stout, ranked opponent.
The Warriors (7-10, 3-7 GPAC) trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half before a furious second-half comeback left them just short of a road upset as the No. 23 Mount Marty Lancers (15-4, 7-3 GPAC) held on for a 96-89 win.
“We were really proud of the way our guys battled on the road versus a nationally ranked opponent,” said Midland head coach Oliver Drake. “We dug ourselves a huge hole but showed great toughness in the second half cutting the lead to one.”
Freshman Kylan Smallwood led the Warriors on their comeback trail as he totaled a new career high with 26 points, 24 of which came in the second half. Off the bench, Smallwood played 30 minutes and connected on eight of his 10 field goal attempts while adding five rebounds to the cause.
Despite a career day, Smallwood’s efforts weren’t enough as the Warriors ran out of steam down the stretch after erasing an 18-point halftime deficit.
Mount Marty used a 13-2 run to extend its lead to 37-21 midway through the first half, and the Lancers kept their fast pace going and lead by as many as 21 before leading by 18 at the break. The Lancers forced six Midland turnovers in the first 20 minutes and shot 52.6 percent from the floor (20-for-38) compared to just 30.3 percent shooting (10-for-33) from the Warriors.
The slow start dug the Warriors a big hole, but they flipped the script in the second half and come out firing on all cylinders offensively.
After going 10-for-33 in the first half, the Warriors doubled their production and made 20 of their 33 field goal attempts (60.6 percent) in the final 20 minutes. Midland never went on a huge scoring run, but slowly chipped away at the lead by making the most of each of its trips down the floor.
At one point, the Warriors scored on 13 consecutive offensive possessions, either by field goals or free throws, and cut the Lancer lead from 16 to just one point with just over six minutes to play. Ten straight points during that run came from Smallwood and his ability to get to the free throw line and finish plays.
“Kylan was huge all game and really showed that he is a difference maker at both ends of the court,” Drake said.
Momentum was fully on the Warriors’ side in the second half, but the Lancers did just enough to keep the lead from wire-to-wire in the period. After Midland cut the deficit to one, the Lancers got stops on defense and converted on six consecutive free throw attempts to widen the margin back to seven points.
After that dry spell, the Warriors couldn’t produce another run and came up short as Mount Marty narrowly held them off for a 96-89 win.
Colby Johnson led the balanced Lancer offense with 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. He also added four rebounds and three assists to the cause. Jordan Johnson (20), Jalen Billings (16), Chris King (10), and Saba Gvedashvil (10) also scored in double figures.
Smallwood got help from junior Laurence Merritt who played all 40 minutes on Saturday and scored 22 points thanks in part to five made three pointers. Merritt hadn’t made five or more three pointers since the College of the Ozarks game on Dec. 30, but found his stroke on Saturday. He also added five assists.
Sophomore Emanuel Bryson didn’t play his most efficient game but still totaled 13 points while freshman Jake Rueschhoff also finished in double figures with 11 points.
Even without the result, the Warriors have a lot to be proud of after battling back as hard as they did against a really good conference foe. As a group, their mental toughness has grown exponentially in the last month or so as they continue to show their ability to stay competitive versus tough teams.
“We are continuing to grow and our group continues to show great competitive spirit,” Drake said. “We look forward to getting back to work on Monday and continuing to get better together.”
Midland gets back on the court this Wednesday, Jan. 15, with a home matchup with the Hastings College Broncos at 8:00 p.m. In the season’s first meeting on Nov. 27, Midland outlasted the Broncos 85-74 in Hastings to earn the team its first conference win of 2019-20.