HASTINGS, Neb. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team has needed a good shooting performance for a couple of weeks, and the team finally got one in Wednesday afternoon’s conference matchup with Hastings.
The Warriors (3-4 overall, 1-2 GPAC) outlasted a comeback attempt from the Hastings College Broncos (5-4 overall, 1-3 GPAC) and escaped Hastings with an 85-74 win. The game was moved from Tuesday to Wednesday after the winter storm that hit the state of Nebraska on Tuesday.
Midland has struggled from three-point range so far in 2019-20, but the Warrior marksmen showed some promise on Wednesday afternoon by shooting 40.7 percent (11-for-27) from three. In total, the Warriors were 29-for-62 (46.8 percent) from the field.
On the flip side, the Broncos were just 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) from three point range as they suffered their third conference loss in as many games.
Junior guard Laurence Merritt led the way with 25 points, a new career-high, on 8-for-17 shooting from the floor, including 3-for-6 from three-point range. He added six rebounds, five assists, and just three turnovers in his 39 minutes on the floor.
Midland’s breakout performance came from freshman forward Kylan Smallwood, who notched his second double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Smallwood’s new career-high in points came by way of shooting 9-for-15 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point range.
The freshman’s 10 rebounds also led the Warriors, who continue to dominate their opponents on the glass at both ends of the floor. Midland outrebounded Hastings 42-28 and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, which in turn led to 18 second chance points. Junior forward Jacob Lenagh is evidence of Midland’s hard work inside as four of his six total rebounds came on the offensive glass.
Despite falling behind 4-0 right off the bat, the Warriors churned out 11 straight points to take the lead. Shortly after that, Hastings took a one-point lead, but back-to-back the pointers from Smallwood and freshman guard Jake Rueschhoff allowed Midland to retake the lead at 20-15 with 11 minutes to play in the first half.
Bookended by a Merritt three-pointer, Midland’s biggest first half lead was a 12-point advantage with 2:41 left to play, but a 7-2 run to finish the half brought the Broncos back to within seven points of the lead before going into halftime trailing 39-32.
Hasting’s Brendan Lipovsky knocked in a three-pointer to start the second half scoring and bring the Broncos to within two points of the lead, but again a quick scoring flurry from the Warriors allowed them to step back out to a bigger lead. A pair of free throws from Smallwood ignited a 16-6 run that put Midland up 55-43 with 12 minutes to play.
At that point, the Warriors had taken hold of the momentum for the second half and added seven more straight points onto the run to push their lead to 62-45. In total, the 23-6 run midway through the second half was enough for the Warriors to rely on down the stretch as they began to run time off and wait to shoot until later in the shot clock.
Hastings couldn’t get any closer than 10 points to the lead after Midland’s big run. Despite three players scoring in double figures, the deficit was too much for the Broncos down the stretch.
Scoring has been a tall task for Midland at times in this young season, especially for some of the team’s best and most confident shooters. With three-straight ranked opponents coming up on the schedule, Wednesday’s performance should give the team a little more confidence moving forward as they remember what they are capable of when the shots start to fall.
Midland will host the 13th Annual Draemel Classic this coming weekend on Saturday, Nov. 30, and Sunday, Dec. 1. The Warriors will be joined in the weekend showcase by No. 4 Morningside, No. 18 Southern Oregon, and No. 22 Bellevue.
The Warriors’ first game of the classic is on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. versus Southern Oregon.