A fierce first half battle deteriorated into a sizeable second half defeat for the Gusties this past Saturday in Lund Arena as they fell 93-68 to the Mayville State Comets.
The lopsided final score disguises how competitive the first half was, as the Gusties took an early 21-13 lead behind eight points from Vannis Smith. Smith would lead all Gustavus scorers with 13 points on 5-9 shooting.
“Tonight we faced a good team with a strong central player who could drive and kick well, and their shooters knocked down shots,” said Smith.
Mayville State then went on a run of their own and evened the score at 21. The stalemate ended when Senior guard Spencer Tollefson splashed a high-arcing, contested jumper into the net for two points. This would be the last Gustie lead of the night, as the two teams traded blows for the rest of the half.
The Comets hit a dagger of a three pointer right before half time to give them a 48-43 lead heading in to the intermission.
The Comets dominated in the second half, outscoring the Gusties 45-25 and warding off numerous comeback attempts.
A porous defense was a cause of concern for the Gusties, as Mayville State shot almost 60 precent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. However, in addition to strong performances from Smith and Tollefson, First-year center Nolan Malo led the team in minutes played and scored nine points, tacking on six rebounds as well.
Malo has seen an auspicious start to his first-year campaign, demonstrating a big motor and good touch around the rim. In a pre-season exhibition against Bethany Lutheran (Mankato), Malo put up a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Gustavus lost that game by just six points, 76-70, and were led in scoring by senior guard Riley Sharbono. The sharpshooting Sharbono was the team’s leading scorer last season at 14.5 per game, and put up 19 points on 6-9 shooting against the Vikings.
Sharbono’s performance last season earned him MIAC third team all-conference honors, and he will be an integral part of the Gustie offense this year.
Rounding out the squad’s front court presence this season are Sophomore Peter Lundquist and Senior Brandon Snoberger.
Lundquist was injured or sick for a majority of the season last year, playing in just 13 games, but has shown flashes of potential. He possesses a silky left-handed hook shot that he can deploy from all angles around the basket.
Snoberger made an appearance in 20 games last year and averaged nearly 5 points per contest, with an inside-out game that should make him a challenging match-up for MIAC big men.
In veteran Head Coach Mark Hanson’s signature movement-based offense, any player on the floor may find themselves posting up, so don’t be surprised if you see some of our more diminutive players down low this season.
Hanson is entering his 29th season at the helm of the Gustavus basketball team. He believes the team must mesh together and look for leaders to find success this season.
“Upperclassman leadership is really critical to any team. We lost some really good leadership in that regard so our captains this year have some big shoes to fill and I think it’s something that they expected and wanted to do,” Hanson said. “Without leadership from not only our seniors but everyone in the program, it’s hard to go far at the end of the year.”
The Gusties were 5-15 in conference play in 2016-2017 and 10-10 in 2017-2018, and will look to capitalize on that momentum this year and improve on their seventh place finish from last year.
Gustavus will be back in action on Saturday when they host Northwestern at 7 p.m.