FREMONT, Neb. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team weathered a late storm from its opponent on Wednesday night to earn the team back-to-back conference wins for the first time this season.
The Warriors (7-9, 3-7 GPAC) trailed by one at the break but got shots to fall in the second half and managed to escape a late comeback attempt from the Doane Tigers (4-14, 0-9 GPAC) in an 80-72 win.
“I’m really proud of our guys. There were some moments in the first half where we could have given in and said ‘it’s not our night,’” said Midland head coach Oliver Drake. “I really liked the way our guys came out of the locker room in the second half.”
Sophomore guard Emanuel Bryson led the Warriors in scoring for the first time in his career and totaled a career-high 26 points to go with 10 rebounds and four assists. Bryson took over in the second half and attacked the Tiger zone using his speed and ball-handling skills and got to the bucket at will as 16 of his 26 points came in the paint.
“We’re pretty proud of Manny,” Drake said. “Last year at this time I don’t think he was getting a minute at the varsity level, but he didn’t quit and he stayed the course. When he gets a full head of steam he’s pretty hard to stop.”
Bryson’s ability to penetrate the Doane zone helped space the floor and open up other opportunities for the Warriors. With the defense caved in on Bryson for much of the second half, the Warriors began to knock down their three-point attempts.
Midland was just 3-for-12 from deep in the first half, compared to much more impressive 8-for-13 clip in the final 20 minutes. On defense, the Warriors held Doane to just 4-for-13 from three-point range
“In this conference you really have to guard the three-point line,” Drake said. “Every night you face a team that can shoot, so that’s been an emphasis for us all season.”
The Warriors never led in the first half as a lot of shots simply didn’t find the nylon despite getting the looks they wanted. On the first possession alone, Midland missed three open looks, which set the tone for the rest of the period.
Doane led 17-7 midway through the opening period but couldn’t keep the lead in double figures as Midland chipped away and only trailed by one at the break.
The two teams traded buckets for the first five minutes of the second half, but an alley-oop from Bryson to freshman Hunter Mengel helped jumpstart the Warrior offense. Mengel’s dunk cut the Doane lead to 42-41 and began what would end as a 14-0 run for the Warriors as they took an eight-point lead.
Midland’s lead grew to as many as 14 in the game, prompting Doane to use an aggressive full-court press to slow the Warriors down and increase the intensity. The press worked as Midland committed a couple of untimely turnovers and forced some bad shots that allowed the Tigers to hang around and cut the lead to six in the final minutes.
Despite 24 second-half points from Miguel Lopez, Doane couldn’t dig itself out of the 14-point hole as Midland held on for its second consecutive conference win and its third straight over its in-state rival.
Lopez finished with just those 24 second-half points to lead the Tigers. Garran Pauli was the only other Tiger in double figures as he finished with 16. Both big men took advantage of Midland’s lack of size and depth in the post after freshman Samuel Mailloux fouled out with over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Sophomore Bowen Sandquist joined Bryson in double figures with 23 points thanks to 5-for-9 shooting from three-point range. That total gives Sandquist four 20+-point games on the season, each coming in Midland’s last five contests.
The Warriors are showing a lot of growth as they start to hit a tough stretch of conference games. The whole team is young, and each night a new guy seems to emerge as the steady hand. If everyone can continue to show signs of improvement and slow the game down in the big moments like they did on Wednesday night, the Warriors will be a tough team to beat, no matter the opponent.
“We’ve kept saying to the guys to ‘stay the course, stay the course,’ but you can only get them to believe for so long without a result, and now we’re starting to get some,” Drake said. “Since Christmas break, we’ve been playing some pretty good basketball, and we’re making progress. That’s fun to see.”
Midland travels to Yankton, South Dakota on Saturday, Jan. 11, for a 4:00 p.m. conference showdown with the No. 23 Mount Marty College Lancers. That game starts a stretch of games in which four of six will be against teams who are ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll.